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.


Darvill Report

Darvill Sewerage Works, Pietermaritzburg

Sunday 28 February 2016

Paul and Sally Bartho

Twelve of us ventured to Darvill for the Sunday outing. It was an overcast day on arrival and brightened later.

Darvill was very overgrown but still worth a visit. Many of the waterbirds were absent. Despite that we still  identified 92 species. Click here to see our bird list.

On arrival we were greeted with a lot of activity on the open grass above the ponds. White Storks were everywhere along with Blacksmith Lapwings, African Sacred Ibis and Hadedah Ibis.

Pied Crows chased Steppe Buzzards and Yellow-billed Kites.

Pied Crow chasing a Steppe Buzzard
Pied Crow chasing a Steppe Buzzard

We started our walk along the top of the ponds then went down to the river. It was difficult to see into the ponds and impossible to walk between them – too overgrown. Along the way we had views of Dark-capped Yellow Warbler, Fan-tailed Widowbird, Southern Red Bishop, Common Waxbill and both Diderick’s and Klaas’s Cuckoos were calling.


At one section we had views over one of the middle ponds. Here we heard African Rail and had views of Cormorants, Yellow-billed, African Black and White-faced Ducks, Yellow-billed Egrets, Little Grebes, Three-banded Plover, Red-billed Teal and several other common waterbirds.

Red-billed Teal
Red-billed Teal

The highlight though was hearing and seeing a (European) Sedge Warbler in the reeds in front of us.

During the course of the morning we saw or heard a number of Warblers – Sedge, Willow, Little Rush-, Lesser Swamp- and an African Reed Warbler.

Paul - Hennie and Decklan Jordaan
Paul – Hennie and Decklan Jordaan

Eventually we reached the river. As we approached we had excellent views of Red-backed Shrikes – male and female along with more Fan-tailed widowbirds.

Looking up the canals we had views of a number of African Black Ducks in each canal – which we considered to be quite unusual.

Also in the canals we saw Common and Wood Sandpipers and Brown-throated Martins. Hennie patiently managed to get a reasonable shot of one of the Martins.

Further down in the river there were White-breasted Cormorant and a Grey Heron basking in the river. Alongside was a Brown-hooded Kingfisher and the calls of Terrestrial Brownbuls.

Then walking back along the road by the canals we had further excitement. Among the Red-billed Teals and other waterbirds, Decklan spotted a bird which he found difficult to identify.

Because of its unusual markings it is probably a hybrid Mallard.

Further along we noticed a rather long Spectacled Weaver’s nest and also saw a Lesser Masked-Weaver, Willow Warblers, Cape Grassbird (singing) Barn Swallows perched, White-faced Ducks.

Butterflies were spotted but perhaps the one which got Sandi excited was a Painted Lady.

Seen while doing a bit of car birdwatching.

Car Birding - Hennie and Decklan Jordaan
Car Birding – Hennie and Decklan Jordaan

Although the Grey Crowned Cranes were not present in the open grassland when we arrived, one did appear on our return from our walk. Always lovely to see.

Grey-crowned Crane
Grey-crowned Crane

Passing the rubbish tip next to the sewerage works a different Stork was spotted flying over by Hennie and Decklan. Into the rubbish tip we drove and there on top of one of the distant electricity pylons was a Marabou Stork.

Maribou Stork
Maribou Stork

Credits are shown on each photo unless taken by Paul Bartho.

Hope you enjoyed the read.

Paul and Sally Bartho


Darvill Outing Sunday 5 October 2014

A group of about 12 of us met for the Midlands Bird Club outing to Darvill, just outside Pietermaritzburg – led by Gordon Bennett.

The morning started with a stroll along the road beside the sewerage canals. A Grey Duiker took us all completely by surprise. Not something you see here with all the poaching.

Grey Duiker
Grey Duiker

We ambled along a-ways when I decided to have a closer look to see if anything was hiding in the canals. And that is when it all happened – the biggest excitement for the day.

The scope came out when I noticed a wader in one of the canals – sleeping on a log. At first I thought it was a Common Sandpiper but it lacked the white patch up the shoulder. Then I noticed barring on the tail and a prominent white eyering (no eyebrow supercillium nor speckled back so not a Wood Sandpiper either, I thought). Then I got excited and called the rest of the group to come have a look. Meanwhile I went to get closer which meant crossing the fast flowing nearer canal. Fortunately there was a crossing further down and I managed to get up to about 30 metres from the bird – all the while stopping and taking photos. When it eventually flew we were able to see its rump which was white but not extending up its back and the end of the tail was barred.

Much discussion and book searching followed. There was mention of it possibly being a Solitary Sandpiper which a number of us had never heard of. The features are similar. (At home I looked it up and found that Solitary Sandpipers breed in woodlands across Alaska and Canada. It is a migratory bird, wintering in Central and South America, especially in the Amazon River basin, and the Caribbean).

That aside, it was felt at the time that this could be a Green Sandpiper – all the pointers seemed right but we were nervous about making a bad call and decided to wait and see the photos. Once home, the call for confirmation of ID went out on Facebook etc and Green Sandpiper it was.

The amble continued along the side of the canals to the river then up to the ponds. Along the way a swarm of Swifts and Swallows passed overhead. There were many different species of Swift seen amongst them – African Black, African Palm-, Alpine (special), Little, and White-rumped.

The paths are clear so the view of the ponds was good. Numerous water birds were on the ponds. Some of the highlights included a group of 6 African Snipes, a Squacco Heron, Little Stints, all 3 Teals etc.

Both Klaas’s and Dideric Cuckoos were heard and the Klaas’s seen. African Marsh Harrier was seen quartering one area and Kites and a Jackal Buzzard flew above us. Altogether Sally and I recorded 81 different species. Click here to see our list. This excludes a number of other birds seen by other members of the group. To conclude we had the pleasure of seeing a pair of Grey-crowned Cranes in the fields above the ponds.

Excitedly we returned home to check our photos of the Sandpiper.

Great morning.

Paul & Sally Bartho

Green Sandpiper?

Need confirmation but we think that this is a Green sandpiper – seen this morning at the Darvill Sewerage Works outside Pietermaritzburg. Note the prominent eye-ring with no supercillium behind the eye (not a Wood Sandpiper); the barring on its tail; the lack of a white shoulder patch (thus not a Common Sandpiper); the dark back with white speckling faintly visible. When it took off the rump only was white (not up the back) and there was distinct barring on the end of its tail.

Green Sandpiper
Green Sandpiper