Latest Cape and Bearded Vulture tracks

Dear All

Please find attached the movements of our Bearded Vultures; Jeremia, Pharaoh, InkosiYeentaka, Lehlwa, Mac, Kloutjie, Camo and Mollie and our Cape Vulture; Bennie for the past week. Click here.

Kind regards

Sonja Krüger

http://www.projectvulture.org.za/

https://www.facebook.com/projectvulture
https://twitter.com/vultureproject

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Illovo bird walk

Report by John Bremner

Saturday 29th April 2017

Adam Cruickshank is organizing a Bird Day for July to raise awareness of Birding as a pastime as well as its valuable contribution towards conservation. We were asked, as a committee, to help with this initiative. Arnia, Sean and I went on an exploratory walk with Adam and a small group of local birders to access the venue. The weather was fantastic, no wind to speak of and a clear blue sky.

This is a new venue in the early stages of development next to the Illovo Business Park just outside Amanzimtoti about 30 minutes drive from Durban. There is secure parking inside the Business Park with a security guard on duty. The Business Park is right next to the Illovu River and has a restaurant and brewery on site. Just what birders are looking for after an early start?

Right next to the restaurant is the entrance to the nature reserve. The reserve consists of a grassland area as you enter on your right with sugar cane on the left, there are some trees along the river and there is a small remnant of coastal forest about 1.5 Kms from the entrance. There are trails cut and well maintained covering about 5 Kms of mainly flat pathways along the river and through the forest area.

Right from the start we could see loads of bird activity along the river and in the grasses at the side of the path, Bronze Manikins, Yellow Fronted Canaries, doves, sunbirds and many others were seen as we headed towards the river. In the cane fields were flocks of birds a little far off for clear views but we picked out Pin-tailed Whydah and some weavers amoung them.

Yellow-fronted Canary

Speckled Mousebird

At the river we found Giant, Brown-hooded and Malachite Kingfishers and a Pygmy Kingfisher in the forested area.

Brown-hooded Kingfisher

We had flybys by Spurwinged Geese, Egyptian Geese and a beautiful African Fish-Eagle.

African Fish-Eagle

We also spotted a mystery rapture fly past, we were not sure but Arnia thought it maybe a Palm-Nut Vulture, we got some very long distance photos which when blown up on the computer showed some of the features, Arnia sent them to David Allan who confirmed it was indeed a juvenile Palm-Nut Vulture. What a nice addition to the bird list.

In the river are some sandbanks and there are some cane fences that have been built which are intended to be used as bird hides, from here you can scan the river and sandbanks. On the sand bank were some Three-banded Plovers and further up the river we could see some Water Thick-knees.

Cape Wagtail

We moved on to the forest.

In the forest we could hear the Green-backed Camaroptera and we saw a Black-throated Wattle-eye as well as our very own Natal Robin (RCRC) and a Sombre Greenbul, there were a few others but as always they did not hang around or perch to be identified.

All in all it was a lovely morning birding in a new and interesting venue. We had a bird list of about 60 species. Click here to view the list. I am sure this will become a popular spot because there is loads of potential and having an easily accessible river frontage just adds another highlight to your birding experience. Let us hope the Bird Day is a big success. Thanks Adam for your enthusiasm and good luck.

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Corvids

Dear All: there is some interesting info on corvids via the link below.

It is hardly anecdotal!

http://www.audubon.org/magazine/march-april-2016/meet-bird-brainiacs-common-raven

Please forward the link to anyone interested.

John Fincham

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Cape and Bearded Vulture tracks

Dear All

Please find attached the movements of our Bearded Vultures; Jeremia, Pharaoh, InkosiYeentaka, Lehlwa, Mac, Kloutjie, Camo and Mollie and our Cape Vulture; Bennie for the past week. Click here.

Kind regards

Sonja Krüger

http://www.projectvulture.org.za/

https://www.facebook.com/projectvulture
https://twitter.com/vultureproject

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Darvill Water Purification Plant Petermaritzburg

 Sunday 23rd April 2017

By John Bremner

Ten keen birders arrived at the waterworks at 7 am to be greeted with a heavy mist settled over the ponds, it was 11 deg C on my car’s temperature gauge, welcome to Petermaritzburg.

It didn’t take long for the mist to start lifting and we started our walk at the top pond near the Duzigrass fields. These were covered with Blacksmith Lapwings and Egyptian Geese. The top pond had only two Little Grebes ducking and diving as Grebes do, but other than that it was quiet.

As we turned down the first path we saw some movement amoung the reeds with a few LBJs flitting about very quietly. We noticed a group of at least 10 men coming over the lawns towards us with at least 20 hunting dogs in tow, these were of every shape and size and we thought that would put a halt to our birding, they passed us by and disappeared off down the path never to be seen again. Needless to say we would not be on the lookout for any small game animals.

As we got to the second pond things started to pick up when the Warblers started to call and we spent some time trying to distinguish which was which.

The pond was full of water birds of all different varieties and on the edges of the pond we saw African Jacana, Three-banded Plovers and a Black Crake.

African Stonechat

Sandi spotted some Kittlitz’s Plovers and then we spotted the Lesser Jacana on the far side of the pond. We did not get great views but we were sure that that is what we could see. We headed round to the other side seeing a variety of Weavers and Bishops in their drab non breeding plumage.

We spent some time trying to sort out what was what. Elena spotted an African Rail darting in and out of the reeds, it took some time but I think everyone got a glimpse, be it only a tail feather or two for some, sadly it did not show itself long enough for a photo but we could hear it calling.

We moved down the other side and saw a lovely Malachite Kingfisher and then spotted the Lesser Jacana again. I hung back taking photos of the Black-winged Stilts and some Red-billed Teal and as luck would have it the Lesser Jacana appeared right next to me and I was able to get some good photos of it.

Lesser Jacana

Lesser Jacana

We also got a fly past by a pair of South African Shelduck, which was most enjoyable.

South African Shelduck

The group was now ready for coffee so we headed back to the cars for some refreshment. While at tea break we still had work to do with a variety of Swifts and Swallows flying past as well as a variety of grassland birds in the nearby bushes and long grass. Three Crowned Cranes flew over, what a great sight.

Grey-crowned Cranes fly-past

After a half hour break Elena called time and we started a trek down to the river to see what else may show up.

We saw a few Cisticolas and a variety of other grassland birds. We hear the cry of a Fish Eagle and spotted a juvenile African Fish Eagle flying overhead.

African Fish-Eagle – juvenile

Not much was seen at the river however.

On our return to the cars we went past the bottom pond and were lucky enough to see the three Crowned Cranes at the waters edge, two adults and a juvenile, a really great sighting.

Grey-crowned Cranes – adult and juvenile

It was getting close to lunchtime by now so we went back to the cars for our lunch, chatted over what we had seen and made a bird list. All in all we recorded just over 60 different species, which we felt was not bad seeing all the migrants had already left us.

Thanks to everyone who came and a special thank you to Elena for leading us.

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Vulture Tracks

Dear All

Apologies once again but due to some technical challenges, you are receiving the vulture movements for the past three weeks in this email. To see the tracks over the past weeks click on each of the following links.

Vultures_3-10 April 2017

Vultures_10-18 April 2017

Vultures_17 to 24 April 2017

Hopefully we will be back to normal again with emails every Monday going forward for our Bearded Vultures: Jeremia, Pharaoh, InkosiYeentaka, Lehlwa, Mac, Kloutjie, Camo and Mollie and our Cape Vulture, Bennie.

Kind regards

Sonja Krüger

http://www.projectvulture.org.za/

https://www.facebook.com/projectvulture
https://twitter.com/vultureproject

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Honeyguides

There is a new paper about Honeyguides via the link below. Please send the link to anyone who may be interested.

http://bo.adu.org.za/content.php?id=307

John Fincham

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Latest Wakkerstroom Newsletter

If you would like to read the latest Wakkerstroom Newsletter then click here.

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Zululand

Report by Paul and Sally Bartho

1st to 5th April 2017

Following the report of a White-throated Bee-eater in Hluhluwe, Sally and I made an impulsive decision to see if we could find it.

We decided to camp in Bonamanzi as a base and were allocated a site in their new campsite. Each campsite with its own ablution. Unfortunately I incorrectly heard the price quoted to Sally, so when we arrived it was not the R220 for the site as I expected but for each of us per night. Had I known this I would have gone elsewhere – like Hakuma Matata.

Following our trip to the Cape for five weeks where the most we paid for a campsite was R240 for both of us, the prices for camping in Zululand have gone crazy. R440 per night camping in Bonamanzi which is nothing special is ridiculous. Perhaps that is why there was only one other camper there and we did not see anyone using the chalets either.

Moving on. On the way there we drove through Hluhluwe and spent an hour and a half in the area where the Bee-eater was reportedly seen. No luck. The next day was also spent in Hluhluwe searching the area for over three hours – again no luck.

Birding appeared quiet in general however we were surprised to find out that we did identify 91 different species over the day and a half. Here are some of the species photographed.

The following day we went to Isimangaliso, entering Western Shores through the north gate. The hide had water in it but was not busy, so we headed for the aerial boardwalk. At the top we could see that the water level had dramatically increased since the last time we were there.

Western Osprey flying over wetlands at Western Shores – view from the top of the aerial boardwalk

Some of the other species seen:

Red Dragonfly or Damselfly

Once through Western Shores we headed for Eastern Shores and had to wait more than half an hour to check in – such a slow process.

Eastern Shores was interesting. There was water around, so we checked out the pans but nothing much was about. Then we headed round the Vlei loop picking up birds here and there. At one section we came round the corner and the road ahead was blocked. A rather large Rock Python lay in the road.

Rock Python

The Mafazana hide was closed. It was unclear why but we suspect they are making a new entrance road to the hide.

Time for tea so we went to Catalina Bay. Fortunately the wind had died down. From on high we had good views overlooking the lake. Because the water was so high there were no waders about and very little else too. However an African Fish-Eagle made a pass looking for its next meal. From the photo it looks as though he has his eye on something rather large.

African Fish-Eagle

African Fish-Eagle with an eye on something rather large.

Then there was the Scarlet -chested Sunbird watching a White Rhino having a mud bath.

Lunch was fish and chips at the boat club overlooking the estuary. Across on the other side major reconstruction works were ongoing. The sand hillside is being removed. There were at least 5 diggers each with 3 dumper trucks – going back and forth to the beach dumping their loads.

In the estuary there were many Terns, a crowd of African Spoonbills, Saddle-billed Storks, Grey Herons, White-faced Ducks, Pink-backed Pelicans, other waterbirds and numerous waders. Unfortunately it was impossible to get close – too muddy.

African Spoonbills

We did however manage to get to the sea shore to find a couple of Common Whimbrels.

Common Whimbrel

On the way back we drove through Western Shores taking the uMphathe loop road. A Saddle-billed Stork was seen close to the road. It appeared to be looking for something. After a while it flew off with a clump of bush in its beak. We wondered where it was headed. Then we saw it land on its nest at the top of a tree on the horizon. It’s mate was there to greet him.

Saddle-billed Stork looking for nesting material

At the Kweyezalukazi Lookout point there were about 11 Lemon-breasted Canaries – exactly where we had seen them before.

Lemon-breasted Canaries

Then around the corner in an open plain we noticed a rapter at the top of a dead tree. Out came the scope but it was too difficult to identify. You decide – we thought it was either an Amur Falco or an Eurasian Hobby. Most likely the former.

And finally as we were about to leave the park – a Brown Snake-Eagle looking remarkable like a Bat Hawk because of its posture.

Brown Snake-Eagle trying to impersonate a Bat Hawk.

And then we went to camp in Mkuze. Prices way over the mark for camping. R300 per night for the site – up to 3 people. This is just another cheap trick to generate extra income as most people either come as a couple or single. They refuse to make any concessions for groups of one or two people. The ablutions are basic and there is no power from 09h00 till 17h00 and from 22h00 to 05h00. And there is now a R10 community charge on entry plus R7 per person per night in the reserve. Camping in Zululand is becoming too expensive for most potential visitors. No wonder there are so few people in the camps.

We only stayed one night.

Impala, Nyala and Baboons were plentiful with the odd Zebra and Wilderbeest but no other animals were seen during our stay.

Nsumo Pan was very full and the hides in good condition with some having new concrete walkways.

As usual the best place to spend midday was at kuMasinga hide. We did have one mystery bird there though. What do you think it may be?

Elsewhere round the park.

Having dinner at Mkuze we noticed a person’s face on one of our hanging tea towels. Could it have been Donald?

Who do you think it looks like?

And then some bird droppings on the side of the car looking like an owl in flight.

Owl in flight

Overall we identified 144 different bird species. To see what we identified and where click here.

Paul and Sally Bartho

 

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Cape and Bearded Vulture tracks

Dear All

For some reason it appears that my system has not emailed the Vultures on the Move files to all recipients for the past few weeks. I apologise for this and have attached the movement files for the past month for our Bearded Vultures: Jeremia, Pharaoh, InkosiYeentaka, Lehlwa, Mac, Kloutjie, Camo and Mollie and our Cape Vulture, Bennie.

Vultures_5 to 12 March 2017

Vultures_12 to 19 March 2017

Vultures_19 to 26 March 2017

Vultures_26 March to 2 April 2017

Please also find attached for your interest a paper published online this past week on post fledging dispersal. This paper is based on the movements of our tagged chicks Ikloba (tagged in 2008), Linong (2008) and Wandervogel (2010).

Post fledging dispersal of Bearded Vultures in southern Africa

Kind regards

Sonja Krüger

http://www.projectvulture.org.za/

https://www.facebook.com/projectvulture
https://twitter.com/vultureproject

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Durban Botanic Gardens

Botanic Gardens – Saturday 1 April 2017

Elena Russell

I arrived about a minute too late to see a Black Sparrowhawk take a Red-eyed Dove over the parking area – only John and Ismail were the ‘early birds’ who got to see the action.

We had a good turnout of members and visitors and set out on a slow walk around the gardens.

We were greeted by lots of Egyptian Geese – I was told that the shop sells food for the geese, I meant to find out exactly what this consists of but got side tracked and never did find out.

Egyptian Geese and friend

At the Lilly/fish pond were a pair of Malachite Kingfishers having an early morning meal and the photographers in the group rushed off to get some good shots.

Malachite Kingfisher

Then there was this unidentified Warbler. Looks like a juvenile.

Plenty of Black Flycatchers around, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbirds called, a Lesser Honeyguide caused a little consternation before a positive ID was made!

Black Flycatcher

Some of the birds seen – Black-collared Barbets, Dark-capped Bulbuls, Bronze Mannikins, Fork-tailed Drongos, a pair of Black-headed Orioles.

Bronze Mannikin

We found the Black Sparrowhawk perched in a tree but never found the nest.

Black Sparrowhawk

Masses of Palm Swifts but no swallows. Speckled Mousebirds, Red-capped Robin-Chat, Kurrichane Thrush (one had a deformed bill). Amethyst, Olive and White-bellied Sunbirds, Golden-tailed Woodpeckers, one of the Cape Wagtails seemed to have a problem with its feet.

Around the pond we had Common Moorhen, Spoonbills and juveniles a few Grey Herons and a couple of Spurwing Geese but not much more.

African Spoonbills with young

We paid a visit to the butterfly dome and there were lots of butterflies around.

On leaving the dome we came across a small frog. The poor frog got rather agitated with us, Sandi was desperately trying to photograph the eye – it depends on the shape whether it is a tree or reed frog.  Anyway the frog took one look at Jenny Rix, ‘his princess’ and jumped up her jeans, shirt and took refuge behind her ear lobe, missed the lips, Jenny then gently got rid of him in a flower bed.  Well done Jenny (poor prince).

Reed or Tree Frog

After all this excitement we went on to the tea kiosk for sustenance. We never did a bird count as it was rather a large circle around the tables but must have been in the region of 40.

I have had better birding at Durban Botanic Gardens, whether this can be put down to the number of concerts which now take place or the heat of the morning who knows.

Thanks John for the great photos.

Cheers

Elena

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North Park Report

Outing to North Park 17 March 2017

Report by Sandi du Preez

There were 12 birders on the outing, which was a good turnout for a week day.

At the start of the walk we were treated to an almost perfect skein of about 15 Spur-winged Geese. I shouted at John to take a photo and he was just able to photograph part of the skein. Sorry, John – I didn’t mean to be so demanding!

Skein of Spur-winged Geese

It was definitely the sighting of the morning. It was hot and windless and the birds were rather scarce and very quiet.

It was pleasing to see that alien invasive vegetation is being removed. We saw an exotic creeper which most of us had never seen before. Mark was able to I.D. it as a Lollipop vine (look at the photo and see why it is so named). Beautiful, but a real baddie!

Lollipop Vine – a baddie.

There was a lot of water flowing strongly over the weir and a Water Monitor watched us as we contemplated the risk of wading across. Needless to say we all chickened out and back-tracked towards the bridge – nothing much to see from there as the reeds and grass have encroached on the rocks and sandy areas.

Water Monitor

Then a walk through the forest alongside the river and back to the picnic area for some refreshments.

Whilst having our picnic we heard a Crowned Eagle but we didn’t get to see it. The species count actually seen was somewhat disappointing, but seen and heard included Bar-throated Apalis,  White-eared Barbet, Southern Boubou, Terrestrial Brownbul, Tambourine Dove, Fork-tailed and Square-tailed Drongo, African Paradise and Dusky Flycatcher, Yellow-bellied and Sombre Greenbuls, Hamerkop, Goliath Heron, Black-headed Oriole, Black-backed Puffback, Red-capped Robin-chat, Natal Spurfowl, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, Purple-crested Turaco, Dark-backed Weaver, Yellow Weaver, Cardinal and Golden-tailed Woodpeckers. (41 species in all).

Thanks to John Bremner and Mark Liptrot for taking the photos.

Sandi du Preez

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Cape Adventure Part 4 – final.

Report by Sally and Paul Bartho

Continuing from Part 3

From Wilderness we headed for Plettenberg Bay and the Keurbooms Lagoon Campsite. The place was very busy especially the waterfront sites. However we were in luck and found an almost private site with a view over the lagoon. The cost R240 per night – no pensioner discount despite being mid-week.

Initially they only had one ablution open but opened up another for the weekend. They were passable.

The Rare Birds Report noted that the Sooty Falcon was still present. So we went to look for it on our first morning there. We found it but the sky was too grey for photography. However the next day we were able to get quite close and managed a couple of shots enabling positive ID for ourselves.

Part of our time there was spent enjoying the scenery with a visit to Roburg. Needless to say we did not walk all the way down to the beach. We got to one lookout point and stopped there – seeing a large seal swimming close to the shore and exhausted panting people passed us having climbed the steep steps up from the distant beach.

On the way back a pair of Orange-breasted Sunbirds succumbed to the heat and took shade in a bush right beside the path. Most of the time they had their eyes closed.

Back at the campsite we took a canoe to the opposite shore of the lagoon at low tide. There we saw almost one thousand Cape Cormorants on the spit’s edge. There was also plenty of Kelp Gulls as well as a dozen or so African Black Oystercatchers.

Campsite birds included Cape Turtle-Doves, Cape Robin-Chats as well as a friendly striped-backed mouse. Driving around the area we saw a few other birds which kept us interested.

Malachite Kingfisher

From Plettenberg Bay we went to Tsitsikamma – Nature’s Valley. R248.46 for two nights which includes the 40% pensioner discount.

De Vasselot – Nature’s Valley

Choosing a site proved difficult. There was no power except by connecting to one of the facility buildings. We decided that we wanted to be in the woods and chose a site near the ablutions. We expected there to be no power however I managed to get a cable across the road into the scullery.

Our neighbours were brilliant. Once set up they came calling. First a Chorister Robin-Chat then a Lemon Dove. Each within metres of us. What a welcome.

Lemon Dove

Chorister Robin-Chat

Chorister Robin-Chat

A visit to the river mouth was unproductive birdwise but a pleasant stroll to get some exercise. On return we went for a stroll around the forested campsite which was quite quiet. We arrived back at our campsite to find four Lemon Doves and a Chorister Robin-Chat under our car. What a start to our time there.

The next day we went for a walk on one of the trails to the north of the river. The forest of well established tall trees was magnificent.

At first the birding was good with Forest Canaries, Swee Waxbill and Grey Cuckooshrike all entertaining us at one spot. Further up the trail we joined the Otter Trail and birding was pretty quiet – except for what we thought might have been a Narina Trogon.

Back in camp we relaxed and had constant visits from several Lemon Doves and the odd Chorister Robin-Chat. They were not concerned about our presence and came right up to us. Some of the other campsite birds and other visitors:

Bushbuck

Later we went for a walk in the campsite and saw little except when we got back five Lemon doves and two Chorister Robin-Chats greeted us.

So special to see these birds up close and unconcerned about us.

This raptor waved us goodbye from way up high – anyone care to ID this for us would be welcome.

Mountain Zebra NP was our next destination for 3 nights. Midweek with pensioner discount of 40% amounted to almost R500. Unfortunately we were not aware that the campsite was undergoing renovation so we had to put up with bulldozers etc when we were in camp during working hours. It meant we spent all day in the park without a break.

Our Campsite

This turned out to be one of our favourite birding areas. The habitat was varied from grassland at the top of the mountains, acacia savannah lower down, dams and wetlands.

Sally was enamoured by the flowers in the upper grasslands.

Aloe Sally

In all we recorded about 90 different bird species. Many of the birds were new to our trip – Gabar Goshawk, Black-headed Canary, Denham’s Bustard, a range of Pipits and Larks, Red-headed Finches, Scaly-feathered Warblers to name a few.

Lions were present but we managed not to encounter any. Game was plentiful – Cape Mountain Zebra, Black Wildebeest, Springbok, Eland, Hartebeest, Blesbok all readily seen. We also came across a Grey Rhebok, Yellow-tailed Mongooses, Ground Squirrels.

This is a place we would enjoy going back to – once the campsite renovation has been completed.

And then we headed home.

We decided to break the journey home with a stopover at Woodcliffe Country Lodge, 22 kms up the road to Naude’s Nek pass from Maclear. A self-catering cottage with a view and giving our poor trailer a rest. R600 for the night.

What a drive that turned out to be. Those 22kms should have taken us an hour. We were warned that we need 4×4 as the road was muddy after the rains. However we managed to take an extra hour missing our turn off and having to find someplace where we could safely turn round with the trailer!

On the way in we saw a number Grey-crowned Cranes and many White Storks. In the evening they roosted in the trees near our cottage.

A bull decided to come through the fence to eat the mown grass round the cottage. Although he got chased out and the wire repaired he burst through again the next morning.

More rains came and went giving us cause for concern as to whether we would get out the next day!

We left early but not before seeing 13 Grey-crowned Cranes together in the field by our cottage. On the way back to the main road we saw at least 12 more.

Grey Crowned Cranes

The road was as soggy as expected and we had to use low range in numerous spots. Then the rest of the journey home was a slow ride through the Transkei.

In all, we had an unexpectedly pleasant trip with the bonus of missing all the rain back home. In all we saw 244 different bird species and 100 of these species were only seen in one location. If you are interested click here to see our complete bird list at each location we visited.

Hope you enjoyed the read and photos.

THE END

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Cape Adventure Part 3

Report by Sally and Paul Bartho

Continuing from Part 2

After three nights in Dwarskersbos and exploring Velddrif and West Coast National Park we wondered where to go next. Eventually we decided to head inland to see the Cederberg mountains. Sally had previously camped in a pretty place called Algeria – in the Cederberg. She was keen to return so that is where we headed for two nights.

The site is run by Cape Nature. The campsite was relatively empty with about only 4 other camps taken. Most of the sites are well treed, some on grass but the more popular on sand or stone for the views and shade. Several nice sites overlook the stream and rock pool where you can take a dip.

Each night cost R240 – a bit of expensive for what it offered. The campsite ablutions also had no toilet paper. It is a drastic drive to get there up a stony pass for 18 kms. A long way back down to get toilet paper in Clanwilliam!

Birding here was limited to around the campsite, its trails and along the stony roads. Needless to say we did not record many species in the two days there. Our best sighting was a Greater Kestrel. The Southern Double-collared Sunbirds next to our campsite were special to hear but virtually impossible to spot as the tree foliage was well dense.

Another bird we wanted to see was the Cinnamon-breasted Warbler. Out came Birdfinder. Skitterykloof Pass it said was the best known place to see it. So that was where we had to go next.

Skitterykloof Pass is about half way along the R355 from Ceres to Tanqua Karoo – about 80 kms from Ceres. Our choice was to stay in Ceres and drive out from there or alternatively stay in a small self-catering cottage within a 20 km drive.

We chose the latter and stayed at Gezellig Genot at R330 a night – bring your own bedding – also limited power available. We parked the trailer beside us and despite the heat (41 C) for two days the batteries were only half depleted keeping our fridge/freezer to temperature.

A quick exploration was called for on the afternoon of our arrival. Despite the heat we went to find Skitterykloof Pass. Driving south we passed the Tankwa Padstal and took the first right after it. A further three kms and we were there.

Steep hillside to the right and the picnic site on the left. We searched up and down the rocky slopes for several hours with not a sign of anything – nothing calling. Most unlikely to succeed – after all Birdfinder is over 10 years out of date. Disappointed – we headed back to the cottage.

The next morning we were up bright and early getting back at Skitteryskloof Pass at 06h30. Passing several Black-chested Snake-Eagles, a Booted Eagle – pale phase and a family of Karoo Korhaans on the way.

The hillsides were still in shadow as we traipsed up and down the road for more than an hour. The sun started to hit the sides of the cliffs and it was getting hot. Back down the road again to the bridge – nothing then back up again.

Suddenly we hear its call (having studied it before going). Well that is the first step – now to find it.

Out of the blue we saw it flitting from one Aloe to the next sucking nectar we assume. As we follow it, it gives us chances to positively identify it but never stops long enough for a decent photo. As we head back up to the picnic site we spot several more. In all we were lucky to see the bird 5 or 6 times. What a beautiful bird – our Aloe flitter.

Cinnamon-breasted Warbler

A few other species were heard and some seen in Skitterykloof.

Back at the cottage we luxuriate on the patio and spend the afternoon spotting from there. The nearby trees were constantly being visited by birds all day long – even in the middle of the day. There were Pririt Batis, Fairy Flycatchers, Namaqua Warbler, Karoo Scrub-Robin, White-backed Mousebird, Karoo Prinia, Cape Bulbul, Cape Spurfowl and most entertaining a gang of White-throated Canaries with their huge beaks almost the size of their heads.

Then to cap it all, with the close of the day, a pair of Rufous-cheeked Nightjars flew about us calling.

Rufous-cheeked Nightjar

As hot and dry as it was we much enjoyed our stay there.

On leaving we stopped at the Tankwa Padstal for some more of their explosive home-made Ginger Beer. The bottles took three minutes to open painfully watching as the gas escaped. Open it quickly and the contents explode all over you. Fortunately the sales lady informed us in time.

So where to next? Head back to Stilbaai we decided. But first to drive the dirt roads from Swellendam to De Hoop – loads of Blue Cranes seen the last time 9 years ago.

Best stay at Bontebok NP as the campsite in De Hoop, as we remembered it, was not only double the price but also in a very poor state. Apparently they have done up the ablutions but the campsite is now closed for restoration. They still take passing trade at a whopping R370 per site.

Bontebok was at R245 per night and R150 for the non-weekend third night.

We planned to pay a visit to De hoop to see what birding they would offer (being next to the river and sea).

The dirt roads did not disappoint – there were Blue Cranes in every large field, Buzzards a plenty – Common and Jackal and numerous Capped Wheatears. After a couple of hours and little distance driven we realised that if we want to see De Hoop before 15h00 we had to get a move on. Of course our GPS took us through farmers fields before we turned around and found our own way!

At De Hoop birding was limited. Most of the area to get to both the sea and the river was through low dense scrub.

Birds were heard but seldom seen. The Southern Double-collared Sunbird called everywhere and we were lucky enough to see it briefly. The Cape Grassbird however was not so shy and it was seen several times displaying nicely.

Baboons were on Sentry duty and other critters seen included Cape Zebra, Bontebok, a rather forlorn Eland, a Striped Mouse and White-tailed Mongoose.

Redwinged Starlings – male and female

African Black Oystercatchers were seen on the rocks and in the coves at the seaside but not much else.

On the river frontage there were Great Crested Grebes and the occasional South African Shelduck.

Great Crested Grebe

And this unidentified Sunbird.

Our second day at Bontebok started reasonably brightly so we took the chance to catch up on the laundry – all by hand. However by the time we had finished washing up the sky was looking ominous. First a dribble then wind and rain. Luckily the sheets had more or less dried but the rest waited patiently for 2 days to get to a tumble drier..

The rest of the day was spent with shopping and catching up on housekeeping tasks. The rain kept up and we expected to leave the next day in the rain – not much fun decamping in the rain.

Yellow Moon

But we were fortunate. The rain had stopped during the night and we hung out the washing to get as much drying time as possible.

Then we packed up and headed for Stilbaai to get a second chance to see the Red-necked Buzzard. Weather predictions were not favourable and we expected to have to stay a couple of nights to get any chance of seeing the bird.

We knew they were renovating the road from the N2 to Stilbaai but it was a shock to see how much they had achieved and more sections of the road with Stop and Go – up to 20 minutes wait at each. And there were three – all of which we hit at the head of the line.

Half way along the third Stop and Go we turned off to Melkhoutfontein towing our trailer on the off chance we could find the Buzzard.

We get to the power station on the left and stop, blocking the bus station entrance. Out we get and scour the poles etc with no luck.

So we decide to head into Melkhoutfontein on the off chance of finding it there. After a short distance as we headed that way, Sally saw a faded blue sign on the left indicating the direction to both the old and new St. Augustine’s Churches. The old was on the right down a narrow track. We gave it a miss as we were towing. So into town. Nothing.

On the way back out, I see my GPS promises me that there is a way out from the narrow dirt track and I take it – with Sally in trepidation. After about 500 metres we get to an open area with a cemetery and the old church on our left.

The pine tree next to the old St Augustine’s Church – the perch for the Red-necked Buzzard.

And a Bokmakierie to greet us.

Bokmakierie

We stop and within a few minutes we see a Buzzard flying overhead – Common. Rats.

Then as I am thinking of turning the trailer round I see another Buzzard. Very pale undersides. Could be it. Out for a photo as it circles around and I get several shots then it flies and perches in the pine tree by the old church. That was the bird we wanted to see.

Red-necked Buzzard

As I tried to get closer to get some better photos it took off and disappeared out towards the sea. Well we had seen it but I was keen for a second chance to photograph it. We waited half an hour but I wanted another 15 minutes. As we waited another couple of birders arrived.

As we chatted one of them – the wife – said “What’s that bird on the pole?”  on the path to our right going in the direction of the blue-roofed school. Sure enough it was back and it allowed us to get several grey sky shots before it flew.

Well we had achieved our goal for Stilbaai. So we decided to head on to Wilderness and try to get ahead of the weather. During the first Stop and Go back out of Melkhoutfontein there is a dirt road to Albertina and a shortcut to the N2 – about 20 kms of dirt and gravel but better than hanging around in the Stop and Goes.

We settle for several nights in Wilderness NP.

Hurray they have a drier for our damp clothes. Our campsite is right by the river.

Three weekday nights here in camp with power on the river R525 (includes the 40% pensioners discount). The ablutions work well although a bit away from the site we chose.

The next day to celebrate Valentine’s Day we decide to head for Prince Albert to have lunch – via Swartberg Pass! Quite a scenic drive but a bit nerve-wracking at times – especially going downhill – numerous tight hairpins and the stony road wide enough for one and a half cars.

Birds were few and far between but we did see a Dusky Sunbird near the top as well as a Blue Crane and chick on the way up.

Lunch at “O is for Olive” four kms  north of Prince Albert – Lamb chops – delicious. We take the longer (distance) route back and save ourselves a couple of hours on the Swartberg Pass alternative.

The following day was spent birding in the camp and going to the lakes and their two hides.

Campsite birding however was the most productive.

A point to note. After eventually finding the Half-collared Kingfisher Trail we were surprised to find we either needed a campsite permit, Wild Card or R40 per person. We had none of the these on us so ended up not doing the trail. We had heard it lived up to its name the day before with a Narina Trogon also making an appearance.

The campsite had a resident Black-headed Oriole and many Knysna Turacos. Seventeen were seen together in one tree on the opposite side of the river from us.

We enjoyed being next to the river despite the campsites around us being busy.

Nothing like a dip to cool you down!

Sally enjoying a dip in the river.

The evening before we left, the clouds above developed a red glow with a straight band of red moving towards the sea. Strange and interesting. Out came the camera to capture the picture. Then no sooner than the pictures were taken the sky opened with rain and hail. We had to move fast to get everything under cover.

To be continued in in the final Part 4