Oribi Gorge weekend away

Report by Cheryl Bevan

23rd – 25th March.

We left for Oribi on Thursday in pouring rain and we looked like drowned rats once we had set up camp in the rain.

The rain never stopped until Saturday morning. John and I were the only ones camping.

On Saturday morning we were joined by the Bartlett family and the Risi family- we set off to meet Andy for the Vulture hide at 8:30am.

Hooray sunshine at last.

What an experience, as we approached the hide we had an amazing view of vultures flying overhead. There are about 250 roosting vultures that stay on the cliffs of the Gorge.

Cape Vulture – Elton Bartlett

We then walked down to the cliff edge where they were flying overhead and sitting on the cliff edges, this went on for about 45 minutes – we had spectacular close up views.

Cape Vulture – Elton Bartlett

The whole colony are Cape Vultures and there are a flock of Ravens that co exist with them. Andy had such a lot of information about the Vultures that we could have listened to him for the whole day.

There is a group of students from a German university that come to tag and observe them. One of the very interesting things he told us is that the Ravens open a carcass first, the Vultures sit and watch and then they all tuck in and finish it off.

Another fact that we found very interesting is that the vultures need to bath after eating as their feathers are caked with blood and because they don’t flap their wings (they only glide) they need water to clean themselves.

Andy and the farmer, whose land the hide is on, are doing the most amazing job with these birds. They have now erected a Vulture bath where they go to after eating. Once a week it has to be cleaned out as it is filthy.

We spent 2 hours and could have stayed longer but that is all the time we had.

After that we went down to the picnic site in the Gorge, had something to eat and drink and did a bit of birding for the rest of the afternoon.

It was a very hot day and birding was very quiet nevertheless we identified 36 species (click here to view our list) and among them was African Olive Pidgeon, Cape Rock Trush, Dark Backed Weaver, Tambourine Dove to name a few.

And guess what, Sunday it started raining again.

Thanks to Elton Bartlett for all the photos – you are a star!!

Cheryl Bevan

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Sunbird Sunday

The BLPN outing to Vernon Crookes Nature Reserve took place on Sunday 20 May, which started off cool but clear. A group of 12 arrived eagerly at the gate and we picked up several species by call even before we went in. Brown Scrub-robins were calling all over, but not seen, and a few birds were starting to sun themselves on the first trees to greet the sun while a couple of flocks of Thick-billed Weavers flew over. Once in, we drove slowly up the hill, stopping here and there to listen to the rather subdued dawn chorus, although we quickly got Knysna Turaco and the four bulbuls (Dark-capped, Sombre, Terrestrial and Yellow-bellied). An open patch of grassland gave us a few of the grassland specials (Yellow-throated Longclaw, Lazy and Croaking Cisticola) and a Black-headed Oriole in a distant tree. The small dam at the top of the hill was devoid of birds, so we moved on to the picnic site, passing lots of Leontis in flower that were full of sunbirds, mostly Amethyst. Near the office, a Long-crested Eagle posed briefly before heading over the hill. Trumpeter and Crowned Hornbills were on the move and well seen and we were a little surprised to see a small group of Greater Striped Swallows heading north with some intent.

After coffee at the picnic site, we walked around the main dam, which also was devoid of water birds. However, we were excited to hear a covey of Shelley’s Francolins calling near the head of dam close to the Blue Wildebeest. However, we were unable to see them, but it was still good to know that they are around as I haven’t heard them at Vernon Crookes for many years. Further on, we had a nice flypast by a pair of Lanner Falcons, and a single male Malachite Sunbird in eclipse plumage put in an appearance, as did several Greater Double-collared Sunbirds. Olive Sunbirds were also plentiful, both in the Strelitzias and the Leonotis.

After completing the dam loop, we drove across to the “Plains” to find some cisticolas. We did find a nice Jackal Buzzard perched in a tree and a displaying Crowned Eagle in the distance. There were no cisticolas at all, however, so we had to content ourselves with a flock of non-breeding Fan-tailed Widows. A number of Stonechats were quite obliging and more Yellow-throated Longclaws showed themselves. We stopped for a while at the cliffs and gazed down into the “Golden Valley” but it was very quiet and the breeze was starting to pick up.

Back at the picnic site, we enjoyed a quiet lunch and enjoyed the scenery. A cisticola nearby caused some interest, with several of the group creeping closer to try to photograph it, which we managed to do. Eventually it obliged by calling and revealing its identity as a Croaking Cisticola. After lunch, the party dispersed after a very pleasant morning, but with a wish to return in spring to try to find more. On my way out, I came across an obliging Hoopoe in a tree and a Collared sunbird in the forest, ending with a pentad total of 63 species, not bad for a near-winter list. There were also few butterflies, only one or two dragonflies, and apart from the Leonotis and a couple of Brunsvigias, very little in flower. Nevertheless, a good outing, as Vernon Crookes always is. A selection of pictures is included below.

Steve Davis

Burman Bush – Saturday 5 May 2018

We had a good turn out and the weather was not too bad.   The birding was not that great, out total bird count was 43 and of that, at least 20 was only ID’d on call!  At least we are improving on our bird calls.

The best thing of all was that there were no ANTS!!!  Maybe because it’s the start of winter – will have to try a summer visit next year when the birding should be better.

We had visitors from Reno, Nevada in the USA join us: Ken Pulvino and his wife Teri who have been touring our beautiful country.   Hopefully they enjoyed the walk and the talk, the Saturday Chat Show was in fine voice!!   I understand that the first Saturday in May is Big Global Day, we will have to find out more and maybe we can participate next year.

I have set out below the birds seen/heard.   Not one raptor, somebody thought they saw something shoot by but no ID, could have been the Black Sparrowhawk, we did find the remains of a Red-eyed Dove below one of the big trees!   The photos of the two butterflies, at least I think so and am happy to be corrected, are a Blood-red Acraea and a Green-veined Emperor.

Bar-throated Apalis; Black-collared & White-eared Barbet; Southern Boubou; Terrestrial Brownbul;  Dark-capped Bulbul; Grey-headed Bush Shrike; Green-backed Camaroptera; Pied Crow; Darter (flying down to the river); Red-eyed, Rock & Tambourine Dove; Fork-tailed & Square-tailed Drongo; Ashy & Dusky Flycatcher; Sombre Greenbul; Hamerkop; Hadeda Ibis; Bronze Mannikin; Black-headed Oriole; Tawny-flanked Prinia; Black-backed Puffback; Red-capped Robin Chat (aka Natal Robin); Black-bellied & Red-winged Starling; Woolly-necked Stork; Amethyst, Collared, Grey & Olive Sunbird; Little Swift (absolutely masses in the sky);  Olive & Spotted-Ground Thrush; Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird; Purple-crested Turaco; Dark-backed, Spectacled, Thick-billed & Village Weaver; Cape White-eye; Golden-tailed Woodpecker.

Even though the birding was a little sparse, it was an enjoyable morning and as always excellent company.

Thanks to John & David for the photos and also John for collecting our Americans from their hotel and then taking them on for a bit more birding along the Umgeni.

Report by Elena Russell