For most of use a national lockdown means staying at home, isolated from the rest of the world and not being able to move around very much. Fortunately this was not the case for me. My father owns a farm in Harding, southern KZN. So as soon as the schools were closed, we were off, going back home after a long term at school. Like many people, our holiday plans were cancelled, we had been going to Mozambique. I was really hoping to see some cool birds up there, but I decided, now that I had the chance, to bird my local area well and try to find interesting species.
However, the Level 5 lockdown bound everybody to their homes, this gave Birdlife Port Natal a great opportunity to host a the BLPN Bird Count Lockdown Challenge. Since I am a member of the club, I jumped at this opportunity. Almost every morning I would get up early, to take a stroll around to see what new species I could at to my lockdown list. By the end of lockdown I managed to get 109 species of bird, including all 3 species of South African Honeyguides ( honeyguide photos ) Swee Waxbill, Lazy Cisticola and best of all a Eurasian Hobby1
1[Editor’s note – this bird made Zach Simpson the prize winner of the unusual record bird in the Rural category during the BLPN challenge.
Although I restricted my lockdown list to the farm, I also birded more widely, not only my garden, I had farms to explore. Harding has quite a good habitat diversity. From High Mistbelt Forests and Grassland to lower dryer stony grassland, with large rocky outcrops , commercial plantations, large dams and dryer bushveld. Much of my birding started on and around my farm. I spent lots of time on the edge of a very large local dam surrounded by dry grassland. I often saw species like, Orange-breasted Waxbill, African Quailfinch, Black-winged Lapwing, Common House Martin in the grassland.
The reedbeds and mudflats surrounding the dam often had species like Goliath Heron, South African Shellduck, African Snipe, African Marsh Harrier. One afternoon I decided to canoe around the dam, this gave me great views of African Rail, Black Crake, Red-billed Teal, Lesser Swamp and Little Rush warblers. There are a few large patches of grassland around the Harding area, I spent much time scanning there areas and managed to find some nice species. These included Denham’s Bustard, Secretary bird, Rock Kestrel and African Marsh Harrier. ( rock Kestrel Photo ) I also managed to flush up Black-rumped and Common Buttonquail.
After spending some time in these grasslands I decided to ask around about Marsh and Grass Owl, I soon came to the conclusion that I would be possible find both in the area. So I made it my mission to find these species. After about a week of searching I was sitting near some tall grass just before dark. Suddenly I could not believe my ears, I could hear a Marsh owl. It was calling nearby. So I walked towards it and managed to flush it. I was overjoyed.
Not two weeks after that I got a phone call from my dad, he said that he had just seen two owl-like birds get flushed out of a vlei. So at the next chance I got, I took a drive there with two of my friends to go and see if we can find them. We arrived at the spot and walked into the vlei. I had not walked to 5 meters and boom, there it was, an African Grass owl. I was so excited to see this bird. I tried to explain to my friends how rare this bird was. I also saw Red-chested Flufftail in a nearby vlei. ( Grass owl Photograph )
Another spot that was really awesome to spend some time in, was the pecan nut orchard, there were a flock of about 25 Cape Parrots that were coming in and feeding. I spent hours sitting and watching them. There was also a group of Crowned Hornbills around as well as a partially leucistic Fork-tailed Drongo in the orchard.
I did some birding in the bushveld/ riverine thicket parts of harding. I heard a number of birds that I did not get to see such as Garden Warbler and Knysna Woodpecker. The highlights were 4 bushshrike species , Yellow-throated Bushsparrow as well a Caracal and Boomslang.
The Misbelt Forests were always a treat. I saw Narina Trogon, Bush Blackcap, Knysna Turaco, Green Twinspot, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler ,Barrat’s Warbler, White-starred Robin and Orange-ground Thrush.
There is no shortage of raptors in the Harding area. The following were seen during lockdown, Martial, Crowned, African Fish, Wahlberg’s and Long-crested Eagles, Common and Jackal Buzzard, Black, Little and Rufous-breasted Sparrowhawks, African Harrier Hawk, African Goshawk, African Marsh Harrier, Lanner Falcon, Rock Kestrel, Eurasian Hobby and Black-winged Kite.
The Lockdown taught me a lot. I learned that sometimes you do not need to look very far to find wonderful things. Before lockdown I would never have dreamt that there were African Grass Owl so close to home. All in all I found a total of 5 individuals. Harding is a special place because I made it special. I encourage you to spend time in your local area and find the overlooked beauties that are there. You may be quite surprised!
Report author and photographer: Zach Simpson