Please pop in to support the bird club. Get a list of the top 10 plants to have in your garden to attract birds. Lovely setting, interactive slide show and bird calls, test your knowledge, have some eats and treats and buy a few bird & nature goodies.
Birders from the coast got to see more than only birds on this outing to the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands. Reedbuck, impala, nyala, warthog and zebra wander around the residential estate, but the highlight was undoubtedly seeing a leguaan sunning itself on the reedbeds at one of the dams.
But back to birding, the club welcomed new member, Renate Roos from Shallcross, who attended her first outing. The gentle walk in the conservation area yielded a final tally of 53 species, which is quite respectable for a chilly day shortly after the winter solstice. (See list below).
There was brief confusion at one tree where two brightly coloured yellow birds shared the same branches. The puzzle was solved when one bird was identified as an immature Black-headed Oriole (with a black, not red, bill) and a Village Weaver already coming into breeding colours.
There were no problems identifying the third yellow job, clearly a Yellow-throated Longclaw.
After the walk, Paul and Sally Bartho kindly invited members to enjoy their refreshments on the lawn of their home nearby.
A few intrepid birders then took off to visit the Karkloof Conservancy Centre a few kilometres outside Howick before returning home.
The bird hides were quiet, but we were rewarded with a variety of water birds: African Spoonbill, Red-billed Teal, a pair of South African Shelduck and a juvenile Black Crake that along with one adult foraged in front of us for long time. The best sighting of all though was a pair of Wattled Crane seen from the hide but way off in the fields, fortunately a drive along the road got us a lot closer and a convenient layby afforded us a better view of the birds. The birds were not very obliging about posing for a photo though.
It is always such a delight to show someone a lifer and our new member, Renate, was delighted with the bird. 22 birds were seen in the roughly 2 hours we were on site. Bird list for Karkloof Conservancy Centre follows the Amber Lee list below.
Please find attached (Click here) the movements of our Bearded Vultures; Jeremia, Pharaoh and Mollie and our Cape Vulture N207, for the past week.
Please also find attached a photo of our incubating bird.
Unfortunately some information below on another poisoning incident last week- a devastating loss of 537 vultures of several species:
PRESS RELEASE – VULTURE POISONING AT CT 1: Botswana
The public is informed that the Department of Wildlife and National Parks recently identified a poisoning site in a Wildlife Management Area CT 1 in the Central District. The poisoning was believed to have been caused by lacing of three poached elephant carcasses with a poisonous chemical which lead to significant mortality in vultures and eagles. A total of 537 vultures and two tawny eagles were found dead at the site. The breakdown included 10 cape vultures, 14 lappet faced vultures, 468 white backed vultures, 17 white headed vultures and 28 hooded vulture. The law enforcement team attending the scene is working around the clock to decontaminate the area. Sampling of carcasses and the environment was done for further laboratory analysis. The public in the vicinity of the area CT1 is request to report any wildlife mortalities which may be spotted in their areas. The Department is concerned with the habit of some individuals who deliberately poison animals as this is dangerous and harmful to the environment. Furthermore, the public is encouraged to desist from engaging in such illegal acts and report any suspicious activities which may suggest environmental poisoning to the nearest wildlife office or the police.
Please find attached (Click Here) the movements of our Bearded Vultures; Jeremia, Pharaoh and Mollie and our Cape Vulture N207, for the past week.
Looking at the data, it appears that our Bearded Vultures are all incubating now. Similarly our Nest Cam bird has also started incubating.
See below a link to an article related to the poisoning incident mentioned last week. Unfortunately there was a second incident, also in the Zululand area, this past week with at least 16 white-backs found dead.
We could not have ask for better weather as 20 birders met at the entrance of the park. We welcomed two new members and four visitors, who joined us for the outing.
The Village Weavers were highly vocal and quite active on the nests in the large tree in the neighbouring garden.
Village Weaver – Terry Walls
We split into two groups, one led by Sandi and Jane and the other by myself.
As expected, when we set off, many of the forest birds could be heard calling but were not seen.
Our first interesting sighting was in fact a Red Duiker on the pathway.
Red Duiker – Terry Walls
A pair of Dark-backed Weavers entertained us with their beautiful call as they occupied themselves with what seemed to be unseasonal nest building They were undisturbed by our presence.
We were rewarded with a nice display by a Red-capped Robin Chat. Terrestrial Brownbul was the prominent bird of the day with numerous sightings. While the Tambourine Dove was heard calling throughout the walk.
The forest fringe bordering the grassland was the most productive spot for both groups.
Here, we saw Sunbirds, Thick-billed Weavers, Bronze Mannikins, Cape White-eyes and Cape Batis were also present.
Collared Sunbird – Mike
Dark-capped Bulbul- Mike
Spectacled Weaver – Terry Walls
Bronze Mannikin – Terry Walls
Olive Sunbird- Mike
Sadly none of the target birds (Spotted Ground Thrush, Green Twinspots, Buff-spotted Flufftail ) were recorded.
We finished off with a walk up to the Black Sparrowhawk nest as we had heard it calling in that area. We were soon rewarded with the bird flying directly above us.
Black Sparrowhawk- Mike
Sandi’s group were fortunate to get a view of it perched in a tree. They also had a nice view of Black Cuckooshrike both Male and female, Black-backed Puffback, Golden-tailed Woodpecker and Purple Banded Sunbird.
Cape Glossy Starlings- Mike
Black-backed Puffback- Mike
Golden-tailed Woodpecker- Mike
Black-collared Barbet- Mike
Square-tailed Drongo- Mike
Dark-capped Bulbul- Mike
The total bird count for the day was 52 (click here to see the list) to which Sandi added another three after doing some birding with Crispin Hemson when most had left.
Please find attached (Click here) the movements of our Bearded Vultures; Jeremia, Pharaoh and Mollie and our Cape Vulture N207, for the past week.
past week has not been a good one for vulture; a dead Cape Vulture was picked
up in the Eastern Cape- quite close to where N207 is foraging. Cause of death
still needs to be established. In a second incident, 9 White-backed Vultures
and 3 Lappet-faced Vultures were found dead near a carcass laced with poison.
The carcasses were already a few days old, but hopefully we will still be able
to establish what type of poison was used.
a happier note, our nestcam birds (see attached) have been adding some
interesting items to their nest.
Dlinza Forest Aerial Boardwalk and an area we think was Dreadnought Farm !
25th and 26th May 2019
Report by Nicolette Forbes
A group of around seventeen people responded that they would be joining us for the birding weekend getaway planned for Eshowe and surrounds and received an email with the logistics and arrangements. The plan was to meet late afternoon at the accommodation in Eshowe and chat about the next day’s birding around the fire that evening.
Thirteen of the group indicated they would arrive Saturday with the butterflying- birders and birding-butterflyers also committing to join us for the walk day on Sunday. Being keen to get started Ticky and myself left Durban early on Saturday morning and found ourselves on the road with the like-minded duos of Jane and Mike Roseblade and Sally and Paul Bartho from Howick. Without any prior planning we found ourselves converging on our Eshowe accommodation within minutes of each other during the late morning on Saturday – eager beavers we all were !
Having settled into our accommodation establishments, the Dlinza Forest Accommodation chalets run by Bev and Allan McKirdy who had kindly offered the BLPN group discount, and the Eshowe Guest House which was right opposite the chalets on the entrance road to the forest, we decided to wander along the Dlinza Forest entrance road and see what was around before heading back to meet and greet the rest of the party who would arrive much later in the afternoon. We were all amazed that despite it being midday and quite hot, there was a lot of bird activity particularly on the edges of the forest and at the picnic sites and we very quickly logged 28 species including Trumpeter and Crowned hornbill feeding through the treetops, Southern Black Tit, Square-Tailed Drongo, White-Eared Barbet and a group of Cape Batis putting on a great show. The bird list could probably have been longer but we were all distracted by the amazing numbers of butterflies moving around the edges of the clearing and at the entrance to the hide so a bit of time was spent photographing and trying to identify this moving feast.
Jane, Ticky and I then decided to check the nearby iHlazi Dam which is very close to town and situated on the upper reaches of the uMlalazi River while Sally and Paul decided to venture onto the boardwalk. The Blue Duiker was spotted from the Boardwalk (photo Paul Bartho). Our hope was to add some waterbirds to the already developing weekend trip list. Although, the dam had surprisingly low numbers of birds, some of the fringing areas had good emergent vegetation and in the lower reaches were large areas covered by a wonderful crop of flowering water lilies Nymphaea spp. The waterbirds were not plentiful, although the water habitat and the bushveld surrounds of the dam did add some nice species to the list with a pair of African Black Duck, Wire-tailed swallow, Purple-banded sunbird, African Stonechat and Brown-throated Martin.
We returned to our accommodation and found two more of our party had settled into their accommodation, Sean Glynn and his sister Gail who also joined us all the way from Howick. They were admiring the garden birds so we decided to join them and eventually all the early arrivals were gathered in the garden outside our chalets in the late afternoon sun to chat and enjoy the many squadrons of Trumpeter Hornbills that seemed to be a never ending parade over our heads as they headed off to their evening roosts. The rest of the expected mob started to arrive with Wilma van der Walt and Wendy van Elden, followed closely by Mick Jackson, and then much later Marian Langrand, and finally Leigh-Ann and Charles Barford who had been spending a few nights at the Hluhulwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve and came via a rather adventurous route through to Eshowe. After a chat about the next day’s schedule and a festive braai everyone settled into their beds in anticipation of the early start in the morning.
We met at the gates to the forest on Sunday at 06h30 and began our walk slowly towards the office and entrance to the aerial boardwalk. The early hour and morning light were enjoyed by all and the hide at the entrance started our Sunday viewing off with a bang. Although still frustratingly dark for the photographers with big lenses we were treated to cracking views of Lemon Dove, Green Twinspot, Redbacked Mannikins and Tambourine Dove. Some of these were lifers for a few of the party and we were particularly delighted that Gail got the Green Twinspots which she had expressed a wish to see as we started out from the chalets. Ticky and I were delighted that the hide and already produced some of the promised specials but were filled with trepidation about what to do about the rest.
After everyone had had their fill of the hide sightings we continued on to the boardwalk where we tried to get a view of Eastern Bronze Naped pigeons without success despite hearing their calls at intervals through the morning. A climb up the tower produced views of Grey Cuckooshrike and Scaly-throated Honeyguide for some of the participants. A couple of participants remained on the tower while most of the group walked one of the forest trails in the hopes of finding one of the other specials at Dlinza, Spotted Ground-thrush. This was a successful venture and we ended up with two birds very close to the path and seen by the whole group. Well done to Paul for getting a photo. The tower people also managed to connect with the thrushes by walking the same path about a half hour later.
By this time the butterfly-birders, Jenny Norman, Steve Woodhall, Sandy du Preez and Zach Simpson had arrived at Dlinza. Steve had hung some butterfly traps which we would check later. After waiting a little while on the boardwalk, without success, for the Eastern Bronze-naped pigeon to show itself and complete Sean’s wishlist, the birding group decided it was time to explore a new area and try to find the Dreadnought Farm site and see what was there. The butterfly group said that they would follow on and join us once they had checked the Dlinza activity.
At this point things moved into the realm of uncertainty. I had been provided with directions as well as permission to visit the farm by the landowner so the group headed off in a five car convoy down the Nkandla Road towards Entumeni Forest. And that’s where it got interesting…four u-turns because signs mentioned in the directions were not in place (for instance some can only be seen once you turn around and head back towards Dlinza) and a chance meeting with another farmer got us onto the right road … or did it ?
After following the directions to turn off the main road at the Entumeni Forest sign (which was not there) and then turn right at the Farmwatch sign (not there) and pass the farm name sign (not there) we crossed a river and decided to call it quits by turning up the road alongside the river crossing at which we had stopped. It was now quite hot but all was not lost as we discovered a beautiful river with two accessible crossings each with dragon and damselflies to entertain us – its anything with wings you see – and surrounding riverine vegetation and valley sides with amazing birds for the time of the day.
We walked along the farm road alongside the river and added Black Cuckooshrike and Narina Trogon to the list. We eventually decided to picnic in the shade by the one river crossing. With no Vodacom signal in that area I suddenly realised that the butterfly group would be trying to find us by following the same directions but given how difficult the directions were to follow they would have no hope of finding us. I underestimated Steve’s radar because as we were all sitting chatting and picnicking suddenly this car pulls up and to our amazement there they were. I still have no idea how thdey found us – it led one birder to ask if they had a tracking device on my phone. Quite a few of the birders decided to leave as it was getting late but the butterflies were still humming along the same river road so Steve, Zach and I walked it again to the next river crossing and were rewarded with many different species and to our excitement a beautiful specimen of Natal Bar that allowed us great close-up views and photos. There were also scores of Blue Pansy, Pied Piper, Boisduval’s tree nymphs and many others. Sandy du Preez walked the road above the river getting a great view of Lemon Dove while Jenny logged birds, butterflies, dragon flies at the river crossing.
By this time it was around 15h30 and Steve needed to go and check his butterfly traps. We all drove back to Dlinza and I watched in fascination as Steve removed some of the larger and more interesting specimens. The traps were very full of tree-nymphs but there were also Green-veined Charaxes, Bushveld Charaxes and to everyone’s excitement the much rarer Scarce Forest Charaxes. A Narina Trogon decided to sit out in some late afternoon sun on the edge of the picnic site as we were packing up and then it was time to leave and we all headed for Durban after agreeing it had been well worth the trip.
Thank you to all of you that joined us. Our birdlist total was 53 species slightly lower than expected, but on looking at this when I got back and once I had submitted the data to the SABAP2 programme I noticed that it was very much in line with the average count for the Dlinza pentad and not a bad total for a winter count in predominantly forest habitats. All in all though, the cracking views of some of the more cryptic and rare forest species, the good weather, company, exploring a new site and habitats visited made for a wonderful weekend trip. We will definitely be going back to explore that new area starting with the birds in the early morning and then move on to all the other winged creatures. We hope that more members will join us for that birding adventure!
At the start of the outing we stopped at the lookout/picnic shelter and a huge flock of Thick-billed Weavers flew overhead. From this spot we also saw Black-bellied starlings, Greater double-collared Sunbird, Cape White-eyes, Yellow-fronted Canaries, a Little Sparrowhawk and Dark-capped Bulbuls.
Walking down the slope to the bottom we had a lovely Bark Spider on its web hanging over the path. A certain someone, who shall be nameless, did not seem to enjoy the sight of this creature!
There were masses of Halleria lucida trees all over the reserve, heavy with flowers and dripping with nectar for the sunbirds and other nectar-feeders.
Walking towards the dam we came across a bird party and we were enthralled by a Black-backed Puffback with a huge caterpillar in its beak. Then it dropped the caterpillar and we watched it searching on the ground for it’s lost snack. Fortunately the sharp-eyed bird found it again and flew up into the tree to enjoy it’s breakfast!
The terrain is looking very different after the heavy rains and flooding. It was amazing to see how destructive water can be. The stream is flowing quite strongly but there is a lot of debris and destroyed vegetation and we could see how high the water had risen. Parts of the old path were covered with broken branches and rocks which had been washed down from the top ends of the reserve. New paths had to be created to avoid these obstructions.
The dam has also been affected. There were only 3 birds on the water – one Egyptian Goose and two Common moorhens.
The path towards the boardwalk was quite muddy but the wonderful
Conservancy members have already been working hard to replace the missing and
broken planks over the wetter areas.
Birding was a little challenging as the birds were rather quiet,
and of course the migrants have departed. Empty skies – no Kites or
Swallows at this time of the year. We didn’t even hear a Kingfisher or a
Woodpecker! However five species of Sunbird were very welcome – Amethyst,
Collared, Greater double-collared, Grey and Olive.
The total count was 36 species. Click here to see the list.
Sorry – no decent photos of birds. I’m missing John Bremner and
Please find attached (click here) the movements of our Bearded Vultures; Jeremia, Pharaoh and Mollie and our Cape Vulture N207, for the past week. Seems our Cape Vulture may breed in the Eastern Cape afterall.
I have also attached a lovely photo of the adult pair from our nest camera.
A chance remark to my sister resulted in Sally and I being invited to join her in the TEBA Cottage at the very mouth of Kosi Bay Estuary for four nights. We had a couple of days to prepare for our trip.
A long way to go for four nights so Sally organised for us to have three nights in Mkuze on the way back – staying in the hutted camp accommodation.
We prolonged the forecast six hour journey by taking a longcut through Phinda on the district road. Instead of turning off the N3 at Hluhluwe we went on a further 20 kms and took the Phinda off ramp to the Phinda reserve entrance and because we were passing through there was no charge.
The 30 km dirt rode through the reserve enabled us to see aminals and birds. Towards the end of the road we encountered a pair of Cheetahs lying in the shade with their legs protruding onto the road. We stopped (although strictly speaking they suggest as we were passing through not to do so in case of trouble). The Cheetahs took little notice of us and stayed put. An pleasant and unexpected start to our trip.
My sister had organised our entry permits for us so we were able to pass quickly through the gate and proceed down to the TEBA Cottage at the river mouth.
The cottage is rustic. Three bedrooms, two bathrooms (one with shower the other with a bath), large kitchen, dining room and a deck with panoramic views across the bay. Yes hot water in the kitchen and for the bath as well as the basins in the bedrooms. No electricity, just a generator powering batteries for lights and the fridges and freezers. That said, it was a privilege to stay there. No neighbours and the bay in front of us.
Each morning, up early and into the coastal forest – following the sandy road to the cottage- listening and trying to spot the many birds present. Getting good sightings was very tricky and many of the birds we identified were by ear – Sally’s mostly.
There were Green Malkoha, Black-throated Wattle-eyes, White-starred Robins, Blue-mantled Crested-Flycatchers, Grey and Olive Sunbirds, Dark-backed Weavers, Black-backed Puffbacks, Southern Boubou, Natal Robins, Crowned and Trumpeter Hornbills, Rudd’s Apalis, Sombre and Yellow-bellied Greenbuls, Terrestial Brownbuls, Brown Scrub-Robins all adding their sounds to the bush.
Of course there were many butterflies too – which we have been unable to identify.
The weather was kind to us – not too hot and cool at night. Mossies were few and far between. A lot of time was spent on the beach and wading up the estuary looking for birds.
A group of waders on one of the sand strips – the tide was out – caught our attention.
Through the scope we decided that we needed to get closer to confirm our ID. A long distance photo confirmed our ID. Then I decided to wade out to get closer. As it happened a group of people got too close to the group and they flew landing on the same sand strip that I was on. I took my photos and then they flew up the coast towards Mozambique.
Here are some photos of other water birds we sighted in and around the estuary.
Fish seemed to be plentiful for the locals – perhaps their methodology was unusual.
A walk the other side of the estuary southwards along the coast with my sister, Natasha and Sally also gave us an unexpected surprise. My sister spotted shoals of fish riding in the waves and then she spotted a Loggerhead Turtle doing the same. In the end we had three more sightings of others doing the same.
Right at the bottom of the stairs leading down to the beach from the cottage there were several large trees which had collapsed into the sea due to corrosion. A the base of one of these lived an eel. Very colourful – bright yellow with dark markings – seen several times.
And in the water at the base of a tree there was a Lion Fish. On one morning it swam around in the sunlight enabling me to get a few nice photos of it.
Our bird list was not prolific and many of the bush birds were identified by sound. In the end we identified a total of 48 different species. Click here to see the list.
After four relaxing days at Kosi, Sally and I headed for three nights at Mkhuze staying in the hutted accommodation. We had two full days to explore the Reserve and visit the hides.
As an aside, if you plan to visit, be careful at night as the hutted camp is not secure. We were told that the previous week a lion was seen around the nearby cottages
We did see an elephant as it walked past the Masinga Hide without popping in to disturb the other aminals there. Other than that we encountered only the usual zebra, giraffe, nyala, impala, warthogs, gnus, baboons and monkeys.
Of course Masinga Hide is always worthwhile to see aminals and birds.
And some of the birds seen there.
The campsite is a good place to see birds and we were not let down when we went there. Here a few of the specials we saw there.
Malibali Hide – near the campsite – was full and we enjoyed the new hide. This time however it was relatively quiet but again we had a few specials to see.
Driving around the bird life was patchy in places yet we did manage to see a wide variety of different species which we had not see at any of the hides.
The second hide to the right of the picnic site at Nsumo Pan is another of our favourite hides except when the wind is blowing. Fortunately the weather was kind to us when we visited. Here are some views from the hide.
On arrival we were treated to a sight we had not expected. Looking out to the left there were pairs of Little Grebes, African Pygmy Geese and White-backed Ducks. And as we scanned the pan there were at least another 20 African Pygmy Geese and about 8 White-backed Ducks. In the past we would have been lucky to see just one pair of African Pygmy Geese.
African Jacana were on the lily pads, a Malachite Kingfisher put on a show, Whiskered Terns were seen all across the pan. And on the far side many other water birds could be seen.
On the shore line heading towards the Picnic site we spotted several Water Thick-knees and what appeared to be a three legged Black-winged Stilt – 2 red legs and one straw coloured!! All close to the African Fish-Eagle which was occupied on a meal.
The picnic site at Nsumo Pan is also one of our favourite places to visit especially for a tea and pee break. Birding is also good normally. And the day we visited was our lucky day – very special.
On the way in an African Paradise Flycatcher welcomed us.
Hippos greeted us bobbing up and down among the lily pads close to shore.
Pink-backed Pelicans and Yellow-billed Storks flew overhead.
Western Cattle Egrets were fishing from Hippo perches. And even a Grey Heron took its chances.
Even the bush around the picnic site had some interesting birds.
It was only as we were leaving that Sally heard a Sunbird calling. When we found it we both were thrilled by what we saw.
On one afternoon drive we returned quite late and driving up from the kuMahlahla hide, we encountered several Spotted Thick-knees as well as Fiery-necked Nightjars.
The Thick-knees I managed to get a few reasonable photos. But I lost out big time with the Fiery-necked Nightjar. There was one sitting on a bare branch right beside the driver’s side of the car. Quickly I put my camera onto Auto and took a shot. Flash goes off bouncing off the inside of the car. Rats. The bird is still there so I try again. This time the flash works perfectly but the bird flew off as the camera took focus. Later I checked the photo and it was a perfect shot of the branch – if only the bird had stayed.
Zululand birding is always full of pleasant surprises. The variety is plentiful. We love going to visit the many different habitats.
In all we recorded 122 birds – identified for Bird Lasser. Click here to see the list.
report was not favourable, as light rain was predicted for the Kloof area.
met in overcast conditions with some experiencing light misty rain on their way
to Krantzkloof. We decided to continue as patches of blue sky were visible
among the clouds which is normally a good sign that it will not rain.
the start it was clearly obvious that Krantzkloof had experienced heavy rain
and there and the river had flowed extensively over the banks in places. Our
first observation was a pair of Mountain Wagtail, who were extremely tame, and
came to within five metres of the group, before they moved off, Uncharacteristically,
mimicking their Cape Wagtail cousins by walking around on the lawn in the
seen in the picnic area was an Olive Thrush, which as always created some
debate about Olive and Kurrichane.
the bridge on the road we could see more evidence of the wash away which had
been created by the heavy rain. The pathway to the Iphithi Waterfall was closed
and we had to take a diversion up the hill to make our way to the trail.
back on the trail, we came a across a few birds. Doves at first, and then a
small bird party, quite high up in the canopy. In the poor light, we did not
get good views of the birds but were able to identify most of them by their
little further up the pathway, our concern about crossing the river to the Iphithi
Falls was confirmed, when we came across the bridge which had been washed down
decided to continue on the Long Shadow Trail, rather than to wade through the
overcast conditions and the Forest habitat were however not conducive to
birding and after walking a fair distance along this path and not seeing
any birds, we decided to return to the picnic area.
misty conditions closed in, and by the time we reached the picnic area it was raining,
and we decided to call it a day.
A perfect sunny mornings’ birding was enjoyed by a group of 13 people. I had arrived 45 minutes before the scheduled start and was greeted with a Western Osprey flying directly overhead. As the other members arrived I told them about the Osprey sighting and they were all envious and wanted to see it too. Well luck was with them as later in the day the Osprey (photo EJ Bartlett) was seen once again flying in the distance with a fish in its talons.
As the members arrived to the car park overlooking the estuary (photo Tyron Dall) we had sightings of Water Thick-knee, Malachite Kingfisher (photo Ronnie Herr), Hamerkop and some Black-headed Herons (photo Ronnie Herr) on the roofs of the nearby buildings.
We started the walk just after 7am and everyone was pleasantly surprised to see how clean the Illovo Estuary was after the recent floods. It seems this catchment was largely spared the terrible litter that has plagued other rivers in the area. As we started the walk we walked past the canoe club building and we saw that they had marked a level on the building where the recent flood waters had risen to (a couple of meters up the building!)
Continuing on the first spectacle we were treated to was a couple of large flocks of Cattle Egrets flying up the river (photo Rob McLennan-Smith). As we continued walking the calls of a couple of Red-throated Wrynecks (photo Rob McLennan-Smith) announced themselves. The photographers in the group all jostled for position to take pictures of them. Then it was the turn of a couple of Yellow-throated Longclaws (photo Tyron Dall) to show themselves, calling from the tops of some bushes.
As we climbed a small vantage point overlooking the river a small flock of Common Waxbills flew from the tall grasses and upon surveying the river a couple of Black Ducks (photo Ronnie Herr) were seen on the water as well as a couple of Three-banded Plovers.
By this point we had already seen a few Little Bee-eaters, but we were then treated to one of the trails “special” birds, a few White-fronted Bee-eater (photo EJ Bartlett). Unfortunately the sun was making it difficult for the photographers to capture these beauties as it was directly behind the Bee-eaters.
Next we headed in to the more forested section of the trails where we managed to find African Dusky Flycatcher, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, White-eared Barbet (photo EJ Bartlett), Green-backed Camaroptera, Golden-tailed Woodpecker(heard), Sombre Greenbul(heard) and Bar-throated Apalis(heard).
On our way back we also managed to see some Black Saw-wings and Fan-tailed Widowbirds. While we were enjoying some food and drinks after the walk we were entertained by some Southern Black Flycatchers, and Southern Black Tits. Altogether we managed a total count of 64 species (55 seen and 9 heard)
Everyone was also pleased to hear that these trails are open to the public and no prior arrangement is necessary to visit them. Thanks to everyone who attended and to all the photographers who contributed their photos.
Friends of ours (Arthur and Rose Douglas) suggested we join them and their two friends (Rodney and Myra) for eight nights in the Kgalagadi. They had space in Polentswa for six nights and two nights in Rooiputs (both unfenced campsites on the Botswana side of the Park).
We decided to go and then return through the Northern Cape and Karoo to find both the Red and Sclater’s Larks which neither of us had seen.
Our program: a stopover at the River of Joy campsite and then spend two nights at Mokala on the way to Twee Rivieren before joining our friends at Polentswa. Afterwards to drive to Brandvlei for three nights and finally three nights at Gariep Dam before returning home.
On the first part of our journey we avoided the Van Reenen’s Pass and took the more scenic route via Oliviershoek Pass. We arrived early at River of Joy near Bloemfontein and set up our off-road caravan in time for a short stroll around the camp before the rains set in. And they set in for the whole night. The ground was fortunately grassy but very soggy in the morning but the rain had stopped. The sole bird of note was the back view of a Gabar Goshawk near the river.
The next day we arrived at Mokala very early so that we could have time to explore the Park. Weather was variable – some sun, cool and mainly cloudy with threats of possible rain.
The sunlight through the clouds had amazing lighting effects on the scenery.
We did see two of the big five animals – a large herd of Buffaloes and a few White Rhinos. Again with strange sunlight casting this Buffalo with a red hue.
Mokala has a very wide range of antelope – abundant and visible. Here are some of the variety that we saw.
There were also a multitude of birds despite the windy, cool and wet weather.
Kgalagadi Polentswa and Rooiputs
Dry weather prevailed during our long journey to Twee Rivieren where we spent the night before heading up to Polentswa the following day
The distance from Twee Rivieren to Polentswa is close to 200 kms – so another long day of driving through the Park.
The main observation was the extreme dryness compared to the same time last year and as a result a paucity of animals and birds. No sign of cats the whole way. Very unusual.
Stopping at Nossob for fuel, provisions and to fill up the trailer with water, Sally went to the Bird Hide to check if there was anything of interest to see. All was desert and deserted.
We did photo a few interesting birds along the way;
Eventually we arrive at Polentswa and set up camp alongside our friends.
There is a waterhole nearby and it was one of the few with water – piped in. This is where we were treated to our daily show of Wildebeest and Springbok;
Some of the animals using the waterhole.
Cape Turtle Doves in their hundreds first thing in the morning and late afternoon;
Black-backed Jackal hopeful of snatching a bird or two;
And at 09h30 the Sandgrouse arrive (Namaqua mainly and Burchell’s) – circling for ages before settling with their beady eyes open for a Lanner attack.
Every day the Lanner Falcons were there – seemingly just hanging about but on occasion an abortive attempt was made to catch a Sandgrouse or Turtle-Dove.
The Lanners did not have everything their own way.
Lanners were plentiful as were the Bateleurs with Greater Kestrels in the air above and the occasional Gabar Goshawk lurking about. Even Tawny Eagles made an appearance.
This Gabar flew and sat in a tree beside a Tawny Eagle. The comparison in size difference was astounding. In the above picture the Gabar looks huge but beside the Lanner it appeared less than half its size.
And sometimes a Lanner was spot-lit in the sun.
The campsite was also a good source of birds as you might expect – especially as we put out water for them. It was also full of incidents. Late night animals, birds close up, snakes, fire and lions.
Every night we had a large fire which we sat around and had dinner together. It was a time when out of nowhere there would suddenly appear – less that 10 metres from us – a Black-backed Jackal, a Spotted Hyena or a Cape Fox. Many nights we heard the Lions calling – we assumed from a distance although they were getting closer.
At midday, we usually gathered together to enjoy the shade of the A Fame and shoot the breeze. Water was put out on the far side of the A Frame giving us a close-up view as the birds flocked in for desperately needed water. And from our vantage point we were able to get photos of them.
Even some non-feathered friends came for a drink.
Two quite similar birds were our constant companions at the A Frame, under our chairs and pecking at the ants. In the end we believe we have identified them correctly.
Others seen around the campsite:
Snakes. An almost 2 metre Cape Cobra slithered across the A Frame in front of us – not stopping for a drink – and headed for my car. Fortunately it took a turn up a tree beside the car. We have no idea when it left but I moved my car away smartly.
The other incident could have had serious consequences. Sally was preparing some food at our campervan kitchen. I then washed up in the same area. As I was putting the pots back in the cupboard I happened to look down at the stool I was standing on. Through the holes I saw something odd.
So I lifted up the stool to find a rather large – fortunately dopey- Puff Adder all curled up against the tyre. Sally and my feet were literally inches from it from time to time.
With help from some other campers we were able to get a spade under it and flick it outside the campsite. This took some effort because the snake kept trying to scamper its way back to what was obviously the coolest place to cool down.
Then there were the Lions. Three playful youngsters. They were heard calling early one morning and everyone in the three different campsites set out (by car) to find them. We were tail-end Charlie. Following the paw prints on the road past our camp, the others soon came across the three youngsters.
When we caught up the entourage of cars were coming back towards us following the youngsters along the road back towards the camps. A couple of them were quite boisterous, stretching themselves on trees and chasing each other.
Eventually they entered one of the camps and found a rubber mat to play with. This was our only sighting of Lions except for an old collared male on our way out of the Park. One even left a landmine on the road.
Sally and I had never been up to Union’s End in the number of times we had visited the Park so we decided to have a drive – some 70 kms north of Polentswa. It was marginally greener but really not by much.
On the way we were fortunate to see a female Pygmy Falcon atop a tree over the road. And unexpectedly a Lilac-breasted Roller. A large family of Ostriches were seen along with Capped Wheatears and a Lesser Grey Shrike.
Otherwise the drive was uneventful until we were arriving at the Lijersdraai picnic site. I ran over a stick missing either end. Except it was a Puff Adder unhurt.
The Kousant waterhole just south of Polentswa had a leaking water tank – perhaps intentionally so. The birds loved it as the tank had encroaching scrubby trees around it.
Black-chested Prinia, Cape Glossy Starling, a Chat-Flycatcher and a Marico Flycatcher all made an appearance. But there was one bird – a Warbler that had us mulling over for ages until we finally identified it.
There was one other incident at the Polentswa campsite which was finally resolved at Rooiputs. It had our other two male friends Arthur and Rodney speculating as to what could be causing this phenomenon over each campfire dinner. And it revolved around the fire itself. Strange colourful flames. Not every night though.
First it must have been the wood itself – or a chemical inside. Same wood next night – no colourful flames. Perhaps it was the paint on the cans burning. Other hypotheses were expressed but it remained a mystery until our last night at Rooiputs.
Finally our six nights at Polentswa were over and we were on our way south to Rooiputs. Along the way there was not much out of the ordinary except that the herd numbers were less than normal and were few and far between. We did however have a reasonable sighting of a Brown Hyena running across the Nossob River; White-backed Vultures and a Secretarybird.
Rooiputs only has six campsites – each distantly apart. Unfenced so risky to use the outside Loo and Shower after dusk.
Every night we heard the roar of the King of the Jungle. His spoor was found around the camp shower each morning.
And of course during our final fire the flames took on their extraordinary colours again. Arthur and Rodney continued their speculation until I put them out of their misery. I handed them a packet each of Mystical Fire which I had sneaked into the fires on several occasions on the pretext of adding rubbish to be burnt.
Eventually we saw the Lion on our way out – an old boy with a collar.
Campsite birds were not as friendly as those in Polentswa but we still managed a pic or two.
During our short time at Rooiputs our birding was limited not only by time but also the dryness of the Park. Despite that we did have one interesting sighting.
Our unusual incident were strange sightings in a Scaly-feathered Weaver’s nest.
And round the side of the nest, this – whatever it is?
And here are a few birds which had us pondering over their ID. We think our IDs are right but are not 100% positive. The first: a Chat Flycatcher (undersides not white enough for a Marico but the white wing bar is confusing).
The Second. Also Chat Flycatcher. Same concerns as above.
Click here to see our bird list for the Park. In all …………….birds were identified.
Brandvlei is a very small town in the middle of Northern Cape Province about 250 kms south of Uppington.
According to Birdfinder is is highly rated and both Red and Sclater’s Larks can be seen there – our goal as neither of us had seen either before.
Early afternoon we arrived at our campsite – Casablanca on the outskirts of town. Rui welcomed us and knew we were birders. It seems many people from around the world stay with him to bird the area. He gave us directions to find the Red Lark close to town.
Fortunately we misunderstood his directions and instead of going about a kilometre we travelled six kilometres down the road looking for the first gate which was open on our left. As it happens we hit paydirt as we entered. A Red Lark flew across our bows and perched closeby. We scrambled out and followed it deeper into the property getting glimpses of it. Eventually it called – very unique call – then flew and perched on a scrub that enabled me to take a photo.
The weather was overcast and windy for the next two days while searching for the Sclater’s Lark. This time we followed Birdfinder’s route along the R357.
We had hardly left town when Sally spotted one right next to us as we drove past. Unfortunately it did not hang around for me to get a good look at it.
We enjoyed the birding along the route – dry open land with an occasional clump of trees usually beside a water trough.
About 16 kms along the R357 we came to a trough about 100 metres off the road. We pulled onto the side and watched from the fence – with binoculars and scope.
We waited and waited watching the the trough and the variety of Canaries and Sparrows which came to drink.
Then two Sclater’s Larks came and drank together. Through the scope it was clear what they were. Photographically the shots were very poor but looking carefully one can make out the face markings.
The next day we went back to the same trough and saw another clearly through the scope. Sorry about the pictures.
Of course there were other species which we enjoyed – Spike-heeled and Karoo Long-billed Larks, Karoo Korhaan, Double-banded Courser, Pririt Batis, White-throated Canaries, Namaqua Sandgrouse, white-backed Mousebirds, Yellow Canaries and Cape Sparrows to name a few.
On the way back to camp five Bat-eared Foxes raced along beside us. Lovely to see.
Another special sighting were the Rufous-eared Warblers – scurrying like mice from one clump of bush to the next.
Severe thunderstorms were all round us on the last afternoon. Rui told us that the last rain that they had was last December – 4 mm only. He offered us a room for the night in the house as he believed that we could be in for a battering – rain, wind and hail. We considered this for 30 minutes until we saw thunder and lightning
Then we raced to get the campervan packed up. As we entered the house 30 minutes later the rain started – and it rained heavily all night. Power went off but we had the comfort of a very unusual home. Very old worldly. Old tims in the kitchen above the Aga, old-fashioned clothing hanging on the walls including corsets and dresses, piles of magazines from the 50s and 60s. Real character. Wonderful place to stay.
The next day we left early for Gariep Dam. The GPS wanted us to use the main gravel roads. After all the rains I think we wisely decided to take the long way round heading south for Calvinia and then across to Gariep Dam – probably 150 to 200 kms further but all on tar.
First it was south towards Calvinia in very overcast and threatening weather. Unusual double rainbows were seen.
The first two hours we experience a little rain now and then. The next five hours it rained constantly and sometimes severely.
The fields were sodden and full of standing water.
On arrival at the Forever Resort in Gariep we decided not to camp but to enjoy the luxury of a Chalet (views above) for the next three nights.
The area was picturesque and birding varied in the different habitats.
We visited the camp’s game park. Small, but it had a busy wetland pond – with many water birds as well as others enjoying the standing water.
There we had views of a sub-adult African Fish-Eagle, Cape Shovelers, Cape and Red-billed Teals, Goliath Heron, Layard’s Tit-Babbler, Mountain Wheatear, Yellow-billed Egret, Yellow-crowned Bishops, Common Waxbills, Common Moorhen, Little Grebe, Red-knobbed Coots to name a few.
During our time there we visited the Dam itself and drove along the rocky shoreline back to the resort. And we visited the Gariep Dam Game Park as well as walking around the resort.
Several views of the Dam.
On the way back to the resort we stopped at a look-out point and had good views of a Black-chested Prinia and a Short-toed Rock-Thrush.
In the Game Park we managed to see three Game – a Wildebeest, three Reedbuck and a Yellow Mongoose.
However the birdlife on the dam’s edge was prolific in several areas. Hundreds of Egyptian Geese dominated. Waders were present – Three-banded, Kittlitz’s and White-fronted Plovers as well as Capped Wheatears, Blacksmith Lapwings and the water birds we had seen at the wetland pond.
Other birds were also seen in the Game Park including:
In total 151 different bird species were identified. Click here to see our combined bird lists and where each was identified
Mike, Terry Walls and I set off at midday on our driving up to the beautiful Bushman’s Neck region of the southern Drakensberg. A weekend of birding and relaxing was something I had looked forward to for some time. On route we were pleased to see a good number of green fields and farm dams that were brimming with water. Our route took us off the N3 at Howick and through Bulwer. We chose to go on the dirt road, it is not in the best state but did produce some good birds. A Denham’s Bustard was lovely to see, a Verreaux’s Eagle with his prominent white cross and rump was a great sighting as well, Ant-eating Chats whirred around and sat on fences for us to get a good view of them.
About 40 Cape Vulture circled above a valley gaining height before soaring off. Once we arrived at Silver Streams we settled into our riverside caravan and enjoyed the bubbling stream and the solitude of the mountains. The balance of our group, Rob and Paige McClennan-Smith and Jackie and Roland Suhr were already ensconced in their accommodation and as we had all arrived fairly late in the afternoon, we were in time to watch the sun set before congregated on the riverbank for the evening. Chilly mornings and evenings were balanced by gloriously sunny and warm days.
Saturday morning, we were up and away to see what we could find. It was a glorious day and we started off scanning the vlei area in the campsite for birds. Here the euplectes species were going about their business. Red-collared Widowbirds and Red Bishop where slowly losing their summer plumage and becoming dull and drab with only faint orange areas to show for once bright colours. The flock of Cape Weaver which was present when I had been about earlier had sadly completely disappeared. Heading up to the border control point one passes through a mix of indigenous and exotic bush. Cape Robin-chat, Olive Thrush, Speckled Mousebirds, Paradise Flycatcher and Southern Boubou were present here, on coming back to this area later in the day we got good views of Drakensberg Prinia which was the highlight of our trip and provide a good deal and debate.
Getting onto the grasslands was interesting as there were two streams to wade across. This caused some consternation, there were those who jumped from rock to rock with shoes on needless to say there were some wet shoes!! Others chose to takeoff their shoes and wade in the icy water!!
Once across it the stream we headed out into the grasslands. The birding here was sparse but Greater Striped Swallow, Banded Martin and Brown-throated Martin were seen and we got good views of Wryneck and Bokmakierie. The small wetland area produced Common Waxbill and Levaillant’s Cisticola but little else. Scanning the rocky outcrops produced absolutely no sightings of any kind and it was with great disappointment that we eventually retraced out steps and headed back to the resort area. A pair of Long-crested Eagle were very vocal and gave us a superb flyby.
Seen along the river were Yellow-billed Duck, Giant Kingfisher and White-throated Swallow. Cape Wagtail along with Cape Sparrow were abundant. I got a very brief glimpse of a Malachite Sunbird as it shot over the trees behind me and a Bush Blackcap popped out only to be chased away by Cape Robin-Chat, unfortunately no one else in the group saw these two species. A White-breasted Cormorant was seen flying back and forth following the course of the river, first towards the mountains and then back again repeatedly. It would appear it had a faulty GPS and was unable to decide which way to go!
It was distressing to see Common Starling looking quite at home here as I don’t recall seeing them on our previous trips here. We saw about 5 birds and they were constantly being harassed by the Red-winged Starlings.
It was a short but rewarding weekend with excellent company and as always, a lot of lively discussion and laughter around the braai fire each evening.
We got a total of 63 species including the birds seen on the trip to and from the venue. For berg birding this is not poor but we did miss some of the species that one would hope to get, but that is the joy of birding and the reason we go again and again in the hope of seeing just that one extra species we missed last time.