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.