It was attended by ten members for the weekend and a further eleven for the Sunday outing. And as usual it was a resounding success surpassing everyone’s expectations. Not only was the birding excellent but the venue and hospitality of Richard Alcock were equally so.
As noted on both previous visits this year (and reported on the website) this can be considered the “Okavango” of South Africa.
Peter and Frankie arrived Thursday afternoon as did Sally and I. It was a drizzly cold afternoon. Despite this we took a drive round the estate heading for the hide.
On the way just before entering the forest over 30 White-backed Ducks took off from the water’s edge showing us why they got their name. A magnificent sight. It was so unusual to see so many together.
Then we drove through the woods to the 200 metre narrow grassy path through the marsh to the hide. Our mistake was not wearing our wellies as the path was through tall wet grasses.
The hide is located at the start of the 7 kms channel into the wetland. As expected we saw many waterbirds including African Pygmy-Geese and White-backed Ducks. Two Grey-crowned Cranes did a fly pass and a pair of Wattled Cranes were observed some distance away close to the forest.
The next morning we returned to the hide – this time suitably attired in Wellies and warm weather-proof clothing. Again we saw most of the birds we saw the evening before including the African Pygmy-Geese, White-backed Ducks and Wattled Cranes.
The excitement was observing an African Rail walking along the water’s edge on the far bank.
There was one little bird right next to us which we failed to ID – have a go.
That afternoon Cecil and Jenny arrived followed by Cheryl and John. Everyone lent a hand to set up their campsites.
While setting up we had a juvenile Black-headed Oriole serenading us from the trees above as a Village Weaver tried to distract us.
After setting up, we all left Cecil and Jenny to enjoy their consumptions as we headed for the lower side of the dam wall.
Richard has cut paths through the bush below the dam with several bridges crossing the fast flowing water from the dam. Totally different habitat and birds to be seen. Here are some of the birds we managed to photograph on that afternoon and on Sunday morning (while the Sunday outing members went on the boat trip).
It was fascinating to see how all the spider’s webs had collected dewdrops.
Friday night proved too cold and windy for a braai so we all ended up chin-wagging till late around Cecil and Jenny’s open tent area! However we did manage an early night as it was up early to depart on the Pontoon with Richard at 06h30! the next day.
If you desire to visit this wetland paradise then you need to contact Richard Alcock – see their website for details: http://www.birdvalleyestate.co.za. You will need to come as a large group if you want to visit and be able to go up into the wetland area by boat.
Saturday morning we were all ready on time. The water was flat and we watched the fish jumping for the flies and the otters chasing behind. This was a treat we experienced each morning.
We also had two members from the Midlands Bird Club (Ian Gordon and Barry Taylor) join us. They had been on a similar outing with their members the week before and got a glimpse of what they thought might be a Striped Crake – the underside of the tail looked rufous.
Our hopes were high but expectations muted. The day still and sunny.
There were 10 of us and Richard as captain. Off we set towards the dam wall for a quick look round before heading up into the wetland area.
Our first surprise were a pair of African Black Ducks at the overflow of the dam.
As we headed north towards the wetland area there were large groups of African Pygmy-Geese and White-backed Ducks.
Just before we entered the channels there was this sighting of an African Darter which had us confused as to on what it was perched.
And then as we passed the Bird Hide we headed into the narrow channels going upstream towards the distant hills.
Onward we travelled with Richard imparting interesting information about the area and the formation of the channels. We eventually reached the area where the possible Striped Crake may have been. Barry disembarked and flushed the likely spots but unfortunately to no avail. Then we headed back.
On return Cecily and Mark arrived and setup their roof-top tent. Mark then proceeded to get out his fishing rod and headed to where the pontoon was tied up. Out he cast -no luck; try again – out he cast and lo and behold he brings in a huge bass which when weighed was recognised as the largest caught in the dam at a whopping 3.8 kgs. and which he generously donated to local staff.
Saturday evening was braai night. And then another gathering for more tales of past adventures which got more exaggerated as the evening wore on and the imbibing increased.
Sunday arrives – another glorious day – the water still and the otters playing. The Sunday outing members started arriving at 06h30 for the 07h30 start. Hennie and Decklan the first to arrive and then a little later Ann and Andy, followed by Dave and Penny then Sandi, Elena and Prem and finally Penny and Cheryl.
Decklan was quick to spot Mark fishing and joined him catching a fish in no time.
Then it was time for the Sunday outing members to depart. Richard the captain of course.
Everyone returned astonished at how good an experience they had had with Richard. Everyone wants to return and make this a regular outing. They had seen Black-backed Jackal, Reed Buck and 6 Otters – both on land and in the water – apart from the abundance of White-backed Ducks and African Pygmy-Geese. Apart from these, their sightings of the day included an African Snipe circling overhead and a pair of African Fish-Eagles trying to disperse their young.
On return everyone gathered to take in their experience and to invest in something to eat and drink before taking a walk below the dam wall, meanwhile those of us who came to make a weekend of it stayed behind to de-camp.
Some of the birds seen on their walk include:
And finally we got together to tally the birds identified for the weekend. In total there were 104 different species – click here to see the list. And we had added another 17 to the total list for Bird Valley Estate. Click here to see the Bird Valley list.
This is a very special place and a birding experience not to be missed. Get a group together, contact Richard ( see details earlier) and plan a visit.
Paul and Sally Bartho
Photos by Paul or Sally Bartho unless otherwise stated in the captions.
Msinsi was rather quiet on arrival except for the many Kurrichane Thrushes running about busily, but soon livened up with the birds celebrating Springtime.
A few Rattling Cisticolas were calling from on top of a bush, and a White-browed Scrub-Robin gave us much pleasure as it sang it’s endless, joyful serenade from the top of a tree.
We had lovely views of male and female Chinspot Batis and after hearing the Southern Boubou most of the morning, we eventually saw a female in the forest area. We heard a Klaas’s Cuckoo calling close by and quickly located it in a tree.
The forest was alive with the signs of Spring. There was some definite movement inside a Spectacled Weaver’s nest and our patience was soon rewarded by an adult bringing food into the nest.
A Bar-throated Apalis flew back and forth with tidbits for it’s chick/s which must have been very demanding judging by the speed at which the meals were being delivered! Unfortunately we could not see the nest as the foliage was too dense.
A female Collared Sunbird was very busy collecting some fluffy nesting material. We were not sure, but it may have been spider web. Red-backed Mannikins were also collecting nesting material.
The sighting of the day was undoubtedly a pair of juvenile Olive Sunbirds on a branch in the foliage of a tree. They both had bright orange gapes which none of us had ever witnessed before. (On checking later in Roberts VII – the fledglings have bright orange gapes). The little birds had a beautiful bronzy glow when the sunlight caught them. And to add to the excitement, they were being fed by the parent!
Other good sightings were female Black Cuckooshrike, a male Paradise Flycatcher showing off his long tail, Lesser Honeyguide, Black-headed Oriole, Cardinal and Golden-tailed Woodpeckers, Square-tailed and Fork-tailed Drongos, Black-collared and White-eared Barbets, Tambourine Dove, African Firefinch, Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Red-capped Robin-chat, Purple-crested Turaco, Amethyst and White-bellied Sunbirds, African Black Swift, White-rumped Swift, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, Dark-backed Weaver. We also heard a Buff-spotted Flufftail.
Unfortunately there was no sign of the Green Malkoha that we saw in June during the BMCG meeting.
Click here to see the movements of our Bearded Vultures: Jeremia, Springbok, Pharaoh, InkosiYeentaka, Lehlwa, Mac, Kloutjie, Camo and Mollie and click here to see the movements of our Cape Vultures Bennie and Shuttle for the period 18 to 25 September 2016.
Thank you very much to those that pledged their support for Bearded Vultures and Rhino last week. The initial tally from pledges for the Rhino Peak Challenge stands at about R300 000 raised for the two projects. These funds will go a long way to achieving our aims in the Captive Breeding Programme and your support is greatly appreciated.
It was a tough walk up Rhino Peak with very strong winds all the way. On my way up I was cursing Beardeds that nest in such remote and inaccessible places, but I guess thats what keeps them safe; and your support of the work we do makes the continuous struggle to conserve them worthwhile.
VulPro – The Vulture Conservation Programme of South Africa is a unique stand-alone programme based in the North West Province.
VulPro rescues and rehabilitates grounded vultures and raptors, giving the non-releasable birds a second chance at life by using them in a captive breeding programme for population supplementation.
VulPro identifies and mitigates threats, educates, researches and is a trendsetter in vulture conservation.
Visit VulPro and see Cape Vultures, African White-backed, White-headed, Lappet-faced, Palm-nut Vultures and Condors, Bateleurs, Fish Eagles and a host of other raptors depending on what has been rescued and is undergoing rehabilitation.
Visit VulPro’s vulture restaurant and book the hide for an out of world photographic and life experience at a later date.
Families particularly love the involvement of “their” vulture, with children learning so much about these amazing birds.
We also offer a variety of memberships suited to individuals, corporates and families, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com for more information.
We also offer the privilege of adopting one of our special vultures, some of these include rescued and rehabilitated vultures, others are captive bred chicks bound for release at a later date.
Should you sight a grounded vulture that requires urgent assistance then please contact Kerri Wolter immediately on the cell number listed below. It doesn’t matter where in the country you are, VulPro strives to assist any vulture in need.
Only one night was spent in Kamberg Nature reserve on the way to family in the Berg.
Fortunately the weather was clear but cool when we arrived until we left – although we had an entertaining evening of wind and fire.
Anyway we were grandly welcome by the birds. These photos show the first five birds we saw.
On arrival we had noticed a smell of fire and we could see the smoke rising from the top of the distant hills. The wind was obviously blowing our way.
Sitting with our sundowners enjoying the peacefulness, the smoke we had seen now changed into fire. We could see the flames creeping down the mountainside towards us. Nervously the camp manager was called and she told us there were adequate fire breaks surrounding us.
On going to sleep the fires kept getting closer and the smell of smoke not quite choking – brought to us on the wings of a rather strong wind. Sleep eventually fell upon us and when we awoke all was quiet and the smoke had gone. Looking out the window we could see the burnt area miles away from us!
The morning was spent birding around the camp and staff areas. In total we identified 39 different species – click here to view our list.
Garden birds were calling all around us with Bokmakierie playing a variety of calls.
Several things were striking. The first was the numbers of Buff-streaked Chats – they seemed to be everywhere.
A large family of Ground Woodpeckers kept us entertained as they came out to sunbathe in the warmth of day.
A Red-throated Wryneck called all morning long moving from one clump of tall trees to the next and evading our binoculars. Eventually we found it in a distant bare tree.
Cape Vultures circled overhead
Unusually a Secretarybird flew above us. We are used to seeing them on the ground so this was a treat.
And a Rufous-chested Sparrowhawk did a fly-by.
Then we seemed to save the best for last. Having settled in at Kamberg Valley Hideaway http://www.kambergvalleyhideaway.co.za/with Sally’s son and girlfriend, we took a drive towards the Hlatikulu Crane Sanctuary and Giant’s castle.
We almost turned back as the temperature was dropping and the wind was up. However just past the turnoff to the Crane sanctuary there are two large lakes on the same side of the road. As we approached we wondered if we would see any Cranes. Were we in for a surprise – 30 Wattled Cranes and 2 Grey Crowned Cranes in the first field between the lakes and another 40 Grey-crowned Cranes in the field on the far side. Thankfully we had our scope with us to get a good count.
We had an excellent turnout – the weather could have been a bit better but the cool/slightly overcast sky made walking very pleasant.
Our bird count was in the region of 84 – we had a few mysterious raptors and there was much debate whether the one was an early returning cuckoo or a sparrowhawk. Unfortunately no photos to help with ID. Click here to see a list of the birds recorded as identified.
The walk through the forested Kloof area yielded up a good number of birds, Purple-crested and Knysna Turacos, Dusky Flycatchers on every second tree and the one group were lucky enough to hear (and see?) Green Twinspots also Narina Trogon were heard.
Also heard was the Crowned Eagle but then the consensus was possibly a Red-capped Robin Chat!!
Our Weaver count was excellent; Dark-backed, Spectacled, Yellow and Cape building nests by the boathouse dam, Thick-billed and of course the ubiquitous Village.
Sunbirds were not too shabby either; Amethyst, Collared, Olive and Greater-double collared.
Some of the birds seen and heard included: Black-headed Oriole, Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Forest Canary, Black-collared, Crested and White-eared Barbets, Southern Boubou, lots of doves – Red-eyed, Emerald Spotted, Tambourine, Rock and Lemon, African Olive Pigeon (Caryl said they roost on top of the house) Common Fiscal, Black-backed Puffback, African Firefinch, Olive Thrush, Southern Black Tit, Olive Bushshrike, a couple of specials – Buff-spotted Flufftail (calling) and Grey Waxbill.
The walk through the grasslands yielded Cape Grassbirds, Croaking Cisticolas, Neddickys, Yellow-throated Longclaws, with Lesser Striped Swallows, Palm Swifts and Black Saw-wings swooping over the dams.
Plenty of wild flowers and butterflies produced some really great photos.
We finished off the morning having our picnic tea at the boathouse – watching the weavers building nests.
The Shetland pony came down to munch the fresh green grass around the dam, the Hadedas delving into the soft earth for tasty morsels, Woolly-necked Storks flying overhead, Reed Cormorants sitting in the dead tree, altogether a very pleasant place to be!
At one point someone on the deck saw this Reed Snake floating at the water’s edge below. “Look at the eyes” was the call, “But not much of a wiggle” said another.
At one stage we stopped off at the house to see the Trumpeter Hornbill chick that Caryl and her son rescued. At the moment it lives in a make-shift enclosure and is making a wonderful recovery. It shares the enclosure with an Angora rabbit (also found in the nature reserve) and they seem to be the best of friends.
We had a ‘silver’ collection and R300 was collected! which will go to the Hillcrest conservancy. Many thanks to Caryl for allowing us to visit and have such a great ‘birding’ day.
Another year has gone by and we have been preparing for Benvie Open Garden again.
We have had some nice unseasonal rain in July and again in August and quite a lot of colour is emerging in the garden and the clivia buds are all showing.
We had intended to open on 24 September but are going to open a week earlier on the 17th and run through to 09th October from 9 – 4pm daily.
As per normal you are welcome to picnic and to bring family and friends. The entrance fee of R50 for adults remains the same and children are free. For pensioners a reduced entry fee of R30 will apply on all Thursdays over the open garden period.
The nursery will be open for plant sales and if you wish to visit the nursery before open garden please phone in advance to make arrangements.