Saturday 1st & Sunday 2nd April
When I hosted a walk through the forest at Bluff Nature Reserve last year, I noticed that large groups were not the best way to explore the forest as the tenth or eleventh person in the line often missed the bird. For that reason, I wanted to host two walks through Pigeon Valley and limit the number to 5 people per walk. The two walks couldn’t have been more different from each other. On Saturday, the weather was cold and grey; heavy rain having fallen the night before.
We entered the park at 7.30am and made our way up the main path, and although we could hear the birds calling around us, they were not very active. There was no sign of the elusive Spotted Ground Thrush nor the secretive Green Twinspot. Near the top of the park, we heard the unmistakable sound of the Grey Waxbill. We sat down and waited patiently and were rewarded by a wonderful sighting of a family group. The juveniles were huddled together a branch, no doubt waiting for mom and dad to feed them! Red-billed Firefinch made a brief appearance.
We made our way through the centre of the park towards the reservoir-end slowly adding to our list of birds. We were also lucky enough to encounter a Slender Mongoose as well as many Red Duiker.
Towards the end of the walk, another birder passed our group and asked if we had seen the Spotted Eagle-Owl which visible from the main path. He then very kindly lead the group to the area and we had a fantastic view of the bird. His presence had not gone unnoticed by the birds either.
The irony of the whole situation was that we had spent hours walking through the park looking for birds. But in the event we saw more birds “mobbing” the owl than we did on the rest of the walk! White-eared Barbet, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, Olive Sunbird, Fork-tailed Drongo and many others.
The Sunday walk was very different. It was warm and sunny and the birds were much more active. Once again, no sign of the Spotted Ground Thrush, but we managed to find the Grey Waxbills again feeding with a group of Bronze and Red-backed Mannikins.
Another highlight was a male Red-billed Firefinch basking in the sun and glowing like a jewel. Although we searched for the owl, we couldn’t find it again, however we had much more luck with the more regular forest birds like Bar-throated Apalis and Cape Batis. A strange sighting for a forest reserve was a flyover from a White-breasted Cormorant.
Possibly the cutest sighting of the day was a little Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird having a bath in water that had collected in a cavity of a branch high up in the canopy. The spray of water as he bathed looked like tiny crystals as they caught the sunlight!
It is worth noting that two of the people that missed the Red-faced Cisticola on my Darvil walk were on the Sunday walk. I had told Ros and Sandi that I knew a spot for the bird over the hill from Pigeon Valley, so after our coffee and snacks, we climbed in our cars and they followed me over the hill to the rank vegetation below Manor Gardens Primary School at the bottom of Dale road.
We added Natal Spurfowl, several Little Bee-eaters, Lesser-striped Swallow and Black Saw-wing to our list, but there was no sign of the Red-faced Cisticola. However, on our walk back to our cars, I heard a call that made my heart leap and a quick scan revealed the bird sitting on top of a nearby bush. An excellent result after an excellent weekend’s birding. Many thanks to everyone who joined me!