BeKZN Atlas | Colour Me Green, eThekwini.

Club Atlas Adventure #7 – Ganja Village

The July atlassing outing was a re-visit to pentad 2950_3035 located in the South-west sector of the eThekwini Challenge area, near Eston. The last time this pentad was atlassed was on 30 May 2021 when club chair Nicolette Forbes hosted an atlas trip there during the 2021 Colour Me Green eThekwini Atlas Challenge (see for a write-up of that trip). This was a pentad I had not visited previously, and I thought it would be good to re-visit it during a winter month. With me were Jane Morris, Lorraine Retief, Lauren Calenborne and friend Heike – the four Reeves and a Ruff!!!

Location of Pentad 2950_3035

Google Earth layout map of the Pentad boundaries detailing possible routes and birding spots.

One of the objectives of the BeKZN atlassing outings is to provide a learning experience about the ins and outs, dos, and don’ts of the atlassing protocols, and where appropriate to give advice and short-cut tips using Birdlasser as an atlassing tool. Best way to get feedback is from the participants themselves, and hopefully their experiences will lure others to sign up for future atlassing adventures. I will let Jane pick up the story from here.

We set off with Dave before first light, were treated to a lovely sunrise on our way to pentad 2950_3035 and logged our first bird at 07h00. The habitat we discovered in the pentad consisted of fallow agricultural land, grassland, some small forest patches that were accessible, and a wonderful area of Acacia thornveld going down into the Ganga Valley where a wetland in the form of a river edged with riverine thicket could be seen.

Ganja Village signpost – birding on a high! – Lorraine Retief

Scenic views across the hills and valleys – Dave Rimmer

Grassland and Acacia thicket habitats – Lorraine Retief

The grasslands yielded Cape Grassbird, an African Stonechat around each corner, three sparrow species, some euplectes to keep us on our toes and one of the highlights of our day, Orange-breasted Waxbill.  We also had an amazing fly over by a Lanner Falcon after it was mobbed by a Pied Crow. Black chested Snake eagle hunting over the grassland was another special bird for the day for me and the Common Quail that showed off to perfection was another highlight.

Orange-breasted Waxbill – Dave Rimmer

Juvenile Lanner Falcon – Dave Rimmer

Common Quail – Dave Rimmer

The small forest patch we found at the side of the road was home to a Southern Tchagra and a Cardinal Woodpecker.  The acacia thornveld that followed the valley down towards the river was also very rewarding with a carpet of white and yellow daisies that just invited us to explore. Here we had Long-billed Crombec, a suite of 4 different Swifts swooping overhead with one being an Alpine Swift, while Gorgeous Bushshrike called down in the valley.  We followed the road down towards the river for as far as we could.  Eventually we had to park the vehicle and walk, it was steep and hot but we were rewarded with no less than 8 species from the view point we found and we hadn’t even got all the way down to the bottom of the valley.

Southern Tchagra – Dave Rimmer

One of the most amazing sightings for me was the sight of a lone dead blue gum tree growing along the edge of a trickling stream in an expanse of cane fields, on top of it in its bare branches was an occupied African Fish Eagle nest.  The question arose why a Fish Eagle would build its nest there.  It is quite a way from the 2 small dams that are in the adjacent pentad, and the stream is obviously too small for fish of any size.  A conundrum it seems that only the African Fish Eagle knows the answer to.

To sum up atlassing for me, it is an adventure. You go to places you haven’t been to before, that you have driven past and wondered what might be around the next bend or down in the valley. You cover various habitats and so you see different suites of birds, you learn about habitats and what occurs there and most importantly in this instant I got to go out with like-minded people, we shared knowledge and experiences and we had a great deal of fun.

And Lauren has this to say about her day out. I was so excited to sign up for a BEKZN Atlas trip, as I haven’t been able to join any of the other outings this year.  Arrangements were made by Dave Rimmer, the atlas leader, and off we set with binoculars and Birdlasser loaded on our phones.  We headed for a pentad on the western boundary of the eThekwini Municipal area, one that hadn’t been atlassed much in the past. 

The five of us left early from Hillcrest, so that we could start in the pentad at first light.  Lots of chatter on the drive there, and as we entered the pentad, we pulled over to examine and log a few birds on the side of the road.  After a while, and looking over some sugar cane fields, Dave looked up and said casually ‘has everyone seen the African Fish Eagle?’ Far, faaaaar in the distance there was a brown blur of a nest in a dead tree.  Apparently, Dave could see a Fish Eagle sitting on top of that nest.  We were all stunned and blown away that he could spot and identify a bird such a long way away. 

African Fish Eagle with a commanding view – Lorraine Retief

Proof it was indeed an African Fish Eagle – Dave Rimmer

We slowly started logging various species and slowly our list grew.  I was so chuffed to log some exciting birds along the way, like Southern Tchagra, Orange-Breasted Waxbill, African Spoonbills, Common Quail, Lanner Falcon, Black Sparrowhawk, Gorgeous Bush shrike, Little Bee-eater and Black-Chested Snake Eagle.  We ended the day on 85 for the pentad which was a great outcome for mid-winter. 

Black-chested Snake-eagle – Dave Rimmer

So, the birding was really rewarding, and the group such good company.  And Dave really went out of his way to make our outing so enjoyable and comfortable.  He had put so much effort into the preparation of how we would tackle the Pentad.  He had examined on Google earth beforehand, potential spots to visit and potential roads to travel on. Then, during one of the stops he poured delicious coffee and later some snacks for us all which was a lovely surprise.  Thank you Dave for Leading such a great Outing.  I am just sad that we can’t go again and atlas another Pentad next weekend!

And to wrap up, a few stats collated by Dave related to SABAP data, based on the card we submitted, being the 26th Full Protocol card ever submitted, the last being the cards submitted by Nicky Forbes and atlas group from their May 2021 visit, mentioned earlier.

The previous highest species total recorded on a card was 92 logged by Tim Woods in November 2012 when the migrants were around. Ours is the second highest at 85 species – in mid-winter nogal. (Species list attached). Our trip added 13 new species to the overall pentad list – 5 of which (*) resulted from the short walk down to the bottom of the valley, instead of driving down (and possibly spending the rest of the day down there!!).

Alpine Swift – Dave Rimmer

Cape Rock-Thrush – Male – Dave Rimmer

The new species added to the pentad list are: African Fish Eagle, Reed Cormorant*, Black-chested Snake Eagle, Western Cattle Egret, Goliath Heron*, Holub’s Golden Weaver, Orange-breasted Waxbill, African Sacred Ibis*, Giant Kingfisher*, Black Sparrowhawk, African Spoonbill*, Alpine Swift, and Cape Rock Thrush. And no, we didn’t find any ganga in Ganga Village!

The four Reeves looking for and logging birds – Dave Rimmer

What… no Oxpeckers down here – Lorraine Retief

Hope to see you at the next BeKZN Atlassing Adventure!

Trip report by Dave Rimmer, Jane Morris and Lauren Calenborne.

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