Pipit for ID

I don’t know if it’s just me being not too good at pipits but I recently discovered that I had misidentified this bird. What do you think it is?

Penny de Vries

Mystery Pipit
Mystery Pipit
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Sunday outing to Umlalazi Nature Reserve 23rd February, 2014

Sunday outing to Umlalazi Nature Reserve 23rd February, 2014

Penny de Vries

We met just inside the gate and I was pleased to see so many good birders on this, my first outing; Jenny Norman, Sandi du Preez, Elena Russell, Crystelle Wilson and Cheryl King. We also welcomed two new members, Chery and John Bevan.

BLPN birders -Mtunzini
BLPN birders -Mtunzini

In general, the birding was a little on the quiet side, with 50 species being seen throughout the day. Nevertheless, the great thing about birding at Umlalazi, is the variety of habitat. We parked in the picnic site then walked back down the road where one tree produced lovely views of a group of Yellow-breasted Apalis, Collared Sunbirds, Grey Sunbird and a Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird. The tinkerbirds were calling up and down the road so it was nice to see one. We also saw a female or juvenile sunbird which sparked much interesting and fairly vociferous debate. It was eventually determined at lunch that it was a juvenile male Purple-banded Sunbird. Three Hamerkops flew overhead and we saw an African Fish Eagle perched in a Raffia Palm tree. The Palmnut Vulture was to elude us for most of the day though White-eared Barbets were present in abundance .

Common Sandpiper
Common Sandpiper

Back at the water we saw a Pied Kingfisher hard at work while we got back in the cars and drove through a small grassland area. Jenny heard a Red-faced Cisticola call so we all jumped out. We played the call but there was no response for a while. We were about to give up when we heard it again and there it was on the top of a little bush giving us excellent views. It was a lifer for Crystelle too.

BLPN-Mtunzini
BLPN-Mtunzini

After tea at the water side we walked through the mudflats and mangroves hoping to find the African Finfoot that has been seen there. This was not successful but we saw a Water Thick-knee, White-fronted Plovers, Common Ringed Plovers and a Grey Plover which flew right past our noses showing us its diagnostic black armpits. This was a lifer for quite a few of us.

We had lunch under the beautiful fig trees. I’m not sure which one but there are many ficus lutea in this reserve, one of my favourite trees. The water was very high so there was not much to see on the spit apart from a few Blacksmith Lapwings and a Goliath Heron.

After lunch we drove around to the boardwalk that goes through the mangroves where not a bird was in sight (it is a little early for the Mangrove Kingfisher that is known to winter here). Despite not seeing any birds here, it was great walking through the mangroves, learning about them from knowledgeable members of the party. We saw the crabs (fiddler?) and a mud skipper.

Cheryl and John in Raffia Palm Forest Monument
Cheryl and John in Raffia Palm Forest Monument

From there we went for a walk in the Raffia Palm Forest Monument where there is no plaque; the forest itself is a living, breathing monument. What majestic trees these are! As Cheryl said, it is akin to walking through a temple. We added a few to the bird list but still no Palmnut Vulture.

We said our goodbyes after a most enjoyable day. Cheryl and I had stayed overnight at the Mtunzini Forest Lodge so we went back to pack up and finally left at around 4. We stopped several times along the way, hoping to sight the Palmnut Vulture but to no avail. We left a little disappointed that we had not got our cherry on top of a lovely day. After driving through the Mtunzini Toll Plaza, I glanced left at the Raffia Palm trees and thought a saw a white rag blowing in the breeze. Then I thought, hang on, could this be it? Cheryl stopped the car and sure enough, it was. We watched it for a while and then, very obligingly, it flew off so we could be absolutely sure.

I went home, most satisfied after a great day and then we won the cricket test. So I had two cherries to top my day.

Sunday 23 February Umlalazi Nature Reserve, Mtunzini with Penny de Vries.

Penny de Vries will be taking an extra Sunday outing this month – please support.

Sunday 23 February Umlalazi Nature Reserve, Mtunzini with Penny de Vries. Please contact Penny to confirm time and where to meet. Email: PDeVries@mrpricegroup.com or tel: 083 555 0155. The year round special is the Palmnut Vulture and African Finfoot may also be seen. The habitat includes both dune forest and mangrove swamps thus offers a wide variety of bird species, as well as fiddler crabs and mudskippers. Directions: N2 North Coast to Mtunzini Toll Plaza where you take the left lane and then turn right over the freeway towards the coast. Once entering Mtunzini bear left and look out for the KZN Nature Conservation/Wildlife signs which lead you to Umlalazi. Meet outside the entrance at 07h00.  Entrance fee payable. (Take Wild and Rhino Cards). Remember chairs, tea and snacks and or lunch! Keen birders can also take in Ngoye Forest (4×4’s required) to see the Green Barbet and Yellow-streaked Bulbul on the way home.

Birding in the Wider Gauteng (100km) Area Nov/Dec 2013 Part 2

Birding in the Wider Gauteng (100km) Area

Nov/Dec 2013

Part 2

Submitted by Penny de Vries

The next day was overcast and a little cooler which was not a bad thing as I had one very burnt arm from the day before. Niall was off to Peru so was absent (imagine choosing Peru over Pretoria!) but Kerry Fairley joined us. We had been together on a birding trip to Finland earlier in the year so it was great to see her again.

We head off for the Seringveld Conservancy, near Roodeplaat Dam, east of Pretoria. It consists mainly of broad-leafed woodIand interspersed with some grassland. I was sitting on 498 so the big question was which would be my 500th bird? The birding in general was a little quieter due to the overcast conditions. This was a slight relief after the overwhelming number of new birds I had seen the day before.

Southern Masked Weaver
Southern Masked Weaver

The first new bird we heard first, a White-throated Robin-chat. We then saw it on top of a tree – what a beauty. Most of the birding is from the road as many of the properties are private.

We drove and stopped, drove and stopped quite a few times all the while heading towards a rocky outcrop where Fawn-coloured Lark is known to occur. Allan called it up and sure enough, it popped up, flying from tree to tree and then landing on a wire. I have included a picture as this is my 500th bird but it is very far away so not too clear.

Fawn-coloured Lark
Fawn-coloured Lark

Once I had stopped high-fiving, we headed off to Centurion. Before leaving the conservancy, we bumped into a group from the Wits Bird Club. It was lovely to meet people like Helen Biram who I had previously only connected with on Facebook.

We arrived at a field seemingly in the middle of nowhere, west of Raslouw, Centurion where we had so much fun. It was one of those experiences one will always remember. We were targeting Desert and Cloud Cisticola as well as Melodious Lark.

Kerry and Allan
Kerry and Allan

These birds are best identified by their calls and displaying behavior. It was amazing seeing these birds flying so high in the sky and then displaying by flapping their wings and staying in one place. The Cloud Cisticola eventually swooped down to earth and I was able to take a photo. Allan seemed to see the birds long before I did when it was nothing but a little speck in the sky; quite difficult to pick up with a grey sky behind them.

The Melodious Lark has the most stamina and displays in the sky for ages all the while singing away, partly its own song and then mimicry – it must have mimicked about 5 different birds while it hovered above us.

Melodious Lark
Melodious Lark

Before we left we spotted a Northern Black Korhaan in the long grass on the crest of the hill.

Northern Black Korhaan
Northern Black Korhaan

Next we were off to the dump to see if we could find a Black Kite but to no avail. We did see an enormous amount of Sacred Ibis and White Storks scavenging to their heart’s content.

Scavengers
Scavengers

From there we visited the Glen Austin Bird Sanctuary.

Glen Austin Bird Sanctuary
Glen Austin Bird Sanctuary

where we were treated to both Lesser and Greater Flamingo.

Flamingoes
Flamingoes

as well as the usual variety of water birds with one Fulvous Duck amongst them.

Water birds
Water birds

Just before dropping me at my friend’s house in Blairgowrie, Allan thought we should pop into Delta Park which is around the corner. The African Reed Warbler was very active and with a little encouragement it was soon showing itself – my last lifer for the day.

It was a fantastic two days and I was privileged to be with such good birders. Be warned, Allan and Niall, I am certainly penciling this in for next year.

Penny

Birding in the Wider Gauteng (100km) Area Nov/Dec 2013

Birding in the Wider Gauteng (100km) Area

Nov/Dec 2013 – Part  1

Submitted by Penny de Vries.

Two days of whirlwind birding in Gauteng offered up 150 species, 25 lifers and extra 18 birds for my year list, on top of the lifers. I had no idea of the diversity of this area. I was particularly fortunate to go birding with Niall and Debbie Perrins and Allan Ridley, without whom I would not have seen half of the birds. There was much banter between Allan and Niall about the pressure of having to find 20 lifers in a day so I could hit the 500 mark. I thought they were joking as I was hoping for about 4 or 5 new birds.

We set off at 4am on the Saturday and headed for Kgomo-Kgomo which is north-west of Pretoria past Hammanskraal. We stopped at the bridge over the vast floodplain which goes on as far as the eye can see.

Floodplain
Floodplain

There had been a huge storm in the area a few days before which swelled the water levels; the consensus was that the area would be humming with crakes in a few weeks’ time. The Amur Falcons were back and there were many Lesser Kestrels too.

Lesser Kestrel female
Lesser Kestrel female

From there we continued driving through the area stopping at the side of the road whenever it looked interesting.

 At one point I was positively overwhelmed by all the new (to me) species that were there seemingly all at once. Lesser Grey Shrike, Black-throated Canary, Black-chested Prinia and Great Sparrow to name but a few.

Some of these were on private property. I felt a little intrusive with my binoculars and camera zooming in on a bird while a very smartly dressed lady came out of her front door.

Birding a stranger's back garden
Birding a stranger’s back garden

Flocks of Speckled Pigeon and Wattled Starling swirled around the sky while at ground level we saw Southern Pied Babbler, Chestnut-vented Titbabbler and a beautiful Shaft-tailed Whydah.

We drove on through the Acacia woodland and stopped every now and again at active spots, of which there were many.  The sun was beating down and there was not a cloud in the sky; Bushveld birding at its best.

European Bee-eater
European Bee-eater

The call of the Pearl-spotted Owlet, most ably rendered by Niall and Allan, not only brought forth quite a few birds but also the ‘pearlie’ itself. I was delighted because I have only seen one once before.

Pearl-spotted Owlet
Pearl-spotted Owlet

While the Barred-Wren-Warbler led us on a merry chase, darting from one side of the road to the other, the Marico Flycatcher was far more obliging.

One of my favourite birds of the day was the Violet-eared Waxbill. 

Violet-eared Waxbill
Violet-eared Waxbill

We turned off the road and went over a bridge where we got out and had a lovely sighting of a Jacobin Cuckoo.

Jacobin Cuckoo
Jacobin Cuckoo

We then headed back the way we had come when a Common Swift was spotted. I was desperate to get a good view of it as I have not seen one in SA before but soon they were swarming all over the place so it was easy. Further along, at the pans a few km east of Kgomo-Kgomo town along the Zaagkuildrift road, we not only saw a Dwarf Bittern but also the largest concentration of bullfrogs I have ever seen in one place. They were all full of the joys of spring, to put it mildly.

Bullfrog Boudoir
Bullfrog Boudoir

We then headed towards the Rust de Winter dam where we stopped at a bridge outside the resort. I felt at home because I recognized all the bird calls as this habitat was more like KZN; Puffback, Black-headed Oriole, Paradise flycatchers and Woodland Kingfishers to name but a few. The Woodland Kingfishers were on a branch displaying beautifully by fanning out their tails.

Woodland Kingfishers
Woodland Kingfishers

From there we were about to head for home when Niall said he knew a spot where Monotonous Larks have been known to occur. We travelled down yet another dusty road through Thornveld when suddenly we heard them. It was amazing to see them perched on top of a tree with their white throats bulging as they called.

Monotonous Lark
Monotonous Lark

Just before being dropped off at my friend’s house, we saw Karoo Thrush which abounds in this area but was a lifer for me; much to the surprise of all. 18 lifers for the day put me on 498 but more importantly, I had a fun-filled day and learnt a lot.

Part 2 to follow.

Penny de Vries

Ndumo Bird Weekend run by Game Rangers Association of Africa (KZN Branch). Part 2.

Submitted by Penny de Vries

November 2013 – Part 2

Saturday dawned with hardly a cloud in the sky in contrast to the previous two days which had been a little cloudy. It was our group’s turn to be taken on a birding drive in the Ndumo vehicle.

Bongani
Bongani

Bongani, our driver, is incredibly knowledgeable about trees as well as birds.

Afternoon at Nyamithi
Afternoon at Nyamithi

We headed to the Nyamithi pan, birding along the way and seeing this Emerald-spotted Wood Dove as well as the other usual suspects.

Emerald-spotted Wood Dove
Emerald-spotted Wood Dove

As we crossed a little stream we saw a Juvenile Green-backed Heron which I mistook to be a Black-crowned Night Heron. I learn something new every time I go birding. This stream was to offer up even greater excitement later in the day.

Green-backed Heron juv
Green-backed Heron juv

There was much excitement when a potential Goshawk in a tree turned out to be a Little Sparrowhawk; another lifer for me that I almost dipped on. Phew – caught it as it flew off. Ismail then spotted a raptor far away and we spent some time trying to figure it out. We weren’t able to make a positive ID but there were suspicions of a Cuckoo Hawk.

I was dying to see a Woodland Kingfisher; we had been hearing them call for days but had still not seen one. Ismail teased me relentlessly about this but eventually I was put out of my misery. Excuse the poor quality photo but it was a little far away.

Woodland Kingfisher
Woodland Kingfisher

The wetlands of Ndumo are RAMSAR sites (that is Wetlands of International Importance) because of the large amount of migratory water fowl that occur here. We were treated to Pied Avocets, Common Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper, Marsh Sandpiper, Ruffs and Yellow-billed Stork amongst others. Crocodiles lay around baking in the sun. Hot as it was, no-one was tempted to have a dip in the pan.

Back at the camp, after brunch, Geoff mentioned that there were white-eyes in the bird bath outside and that one should examine them closely as they could be Yellow White-eyes instead of Cape.

While everyone was sensibly napping in the heat of the day, I was sucked in by the activity at the bird bath.

African Yellow White-eye
African Yellow White-eye

It was fantastic; I must have seen 6 or 7 species splashing around in there, cooling down and flying in and out. I was rewarded by seeing the Yellow White-eye too which can be distinguished by its very yellow forehead and breast.

Bird bath
Bird bath

Violet-backed Starlings, male and female, were there as were the ubiquitous Dark-capped Bulbuls and Yellow-throated Petronia. Even a Yellow-fronted Canary wanted to get in on the action.

Yellow-fronted Canary wants to join in the fun
Yellow-fronted Canary wants to join in the fun

That afternoon we all head back to Nyamithi Pan for a guarded guided walk and sundowners.

Follow the leader
Follow the leader

On the way we crossed the stream again and this time were treated to a Dwarf Bittern; my very first Bittern ever. What a beauty.

Dwarf Bittern
Dwarf Bittern

Back at the pan was a surfeit of waders; such a tranquil scene.

Lesser Flamingo and Spoonbills fed at the water’s edge while the middle beach was full of Little Stints, Kittlitz Plovers, Curlew Sandpiper and many others.

Joseph
Joseph

Joseph was scouring each and every bird as a Green Sandpiper had been spotted in recent days. And we were in luck! There it was. After much debate and taking of confirmatory photos to determine whether or not it was a Wood or a Green; the verdict was a Green Sandpiper.

Green Sandpiper
Green Sandpiper

A great day ended with sundowners and a glorious sunset.

Chilling at Nyamithi Pan
Chilling at Nyamithi Pan
Sunset
Sunset

Sunday was our last day. We went on a shortish walk in the western part of Ndumo as we had to be back before 10 to check out of our rooms. This habitat offered up completely different birds such as Senegal Lapwing,  African Cuckoo, Sabota Lark, Yellow-billed Hornbill and most excitingly, Black-bellied Bustard. After another of George’s great brunches we all said fond farewells to our new found friends and wended our way home. Until next year.

Ndumo Bird Tour Weekend run by Game Rangers Association of Africa (KZN Branch)

Submitted by Penny de Vries

November 2013

 

Welcome to Ndumo
Welcome to Ndumo

I went on this weekend last year with Cheryl King and we loved it so much we determined to return again this year. It is run by George Zaloumis who was assisted, on this particular weekend, by Geoff Kay of Origin Birding Tours and three of the amazing Ndumo game rangers; Sonto, Joseph and Bongani. We were taken on various birding walks and birding drives and it was wonderful to have 5 birding and Ndumo experts every step of the way. Furthermore, everyone was a birder so we did not have to worry about non-birders getting impatient while we painstakingly tried to spot the elusive bird flitting about the branches.

Geoff Kay
Geoff Kay, our bird and tree guru for the weekend.

In the late afternoon of the first day, Geoff took us to the hide where we had a lovely sampling of Ndumo water birds including a whole crew of African Jacana and a lovely Malachite Kingfisher. I dipped on both the Little Bittern and White-winged Tern which quite a few did see. But I made up for this later.

We spent the evening getting to know each other and I was delighted to see some familiar faces such as Ismail Vahed and Norman Freeman of Port Natal. Glyn and Jill Lewis are also members that I thought I had not met before though we later realised that we had been on a Bluff outing together last year.

Orange-breasted Bush Shrike on nest
Orange-breasted Bush Shrike on nest

The next morning we set off at 5am and on the way, Sonto showed us this Orange-breasted Bush Shrike on its nest.

BLPN members walking in fig forest
BLPN members walking in fig forest

Cheryl, Glyn, Jill and Ismail walking in the fig forest with our two young overseas visitors, Nicky and Sebastien, bringing up the rear.

Soon enough, Cheryl and I had our first two lifers; Red-faced Cisticola was very difficult to see at first as it flitted in between the reeds but eventually it moved to a nice visible spot. The next was Burnt-necked Eremomela, for which we also had to work hard. Joseph and Sonto heard and located them; then Geoff played the call to entice it back. I despaired of getting a good look at them but finally they settled at the top of a tree and we had a good sighting.

Tambourine Dove
Tambourine Dove

In between stops, Stierlings Wren-Warbler was seen as well as Arrow-marked Babbler, Grey Tit-Flycatcher and this lovely Tambourine Dove.

Broad-billed Roller
Broad-billed Roller

Also a Broad-billed Roller right at the top of the canopy.

Often heard rather than seen, I was delighted that this White-browed Scrub Robin

White-browed Scrub Robin
White-browed Scrub Robin

posed in the open.

Domoina remnant
Domoina remnant

This huge dead branch threaded in between the fig tree branches was apparently washed up there during the Domoina Tropical Storms of 1984 and has been there ever since. This gives one some idea of the immensity of those floods.

Narina Trogon
Narina Trogon

We heard the low hooting of this beautiful Narina Trogon long before we saw it. I was the last to see it and Ismail did not let me forget how patient he and everyone else had to be with me.

Dichrostachys cinerea
Dichrostachys cinerea

I am trying to learn a different tree on every outing. This one has such a distinctive flower, hopefully it will stick in my mind. Dichrostachys cinerea or Sickle-bush.

After an afternoon rest we went back to Shokwe Pan in the hopes of seeing an African Broadbill.

On the way we saw the customary group of giraffes accompanied by their co-operative Red-billed Oxpeckers.

You can't see me giraffe
You can’t see me giraffe
Red-billed Oxpecker
Red-billed Oxpecker
Bearded Woodpecker
Bearded Woodpecker

Also a Bearded Woodpecker seen on the drive after lunch.

We were also shown the nest of the White-crested Helmet-Shrike, replete with babies.

White-crested Helmet Shrike chicks
White-crested Helmet Shrike chicks

The amazing thing about this nest is that, according to Roberts, it is constructed by all members of the group and thickly bound with cobwebs, as can be seen in this photo.

No African Broadbill, unfortunately, but we did see its nest (below); a messy, tatty affair.

African Broadbilll nest
African Broadbilll nest

African Barred Owlet
African Barred Owlet

We walked in the beautiful forest without seeing as many birds as we had in the morning but enjoying the surroundings. Sonto and Joseph heard the call of the African Barred Owlet; they were convinced they would be able to locate it for us. I was a little sceptical but was happy to wander from tree to tree peering into the foliage. Then, bingo! It was found and we were all able to see it. What a treat and a perfect end to a day’s birding in which we saw well over 100 species.

Umbogavango on Sunday 28th April – Feedback Penny de Vries

From Penny de Vries:

A few of us got together and visited Umbogavango on Sunday. I had never been before as somehow I have always missed the Christmas function. It was a fantastic day, the weather was glorious and together our little group saw close on to 70 birds. The walks are lovely as are the bird hides and dams. We walked around for five hours before making our way back to the braai area for sustenance.

We spent a lot of time trying to id a flycatcher which was high up in the tree and very difficult to see. Eventually Sandy resorted to lying on the path on her back to relieve the neck strain. What a good idea. We eventually agreed on African Dusky Flycatcher; initially we were thrown by how white the breast looked.

The best bird of the day was the Pygmy Kingfisher which initially we thought was a Malachite Kingfisher. Of course, the habitat we saw it in wasn’t right for a Malachite, as it was in a wooded area nowhere near water. Later we did see a Malachite Kingfisher at the water’s edge and it was great for me to be able to take photos of them both so I could see clearly the difference between them. The orange eyebrow of the Pygmy is quite distinctive.

We saw a great bird battle playing out over one of the dams with the spoonbill, fish eagle, blacksmith lapwings and spur winged goose all flying around like crazy. I think the spoonbill started it but soon it was hard to say who was chasing who. Great excitement.

There were many red capped robin-chats, bee-eaters and white-eared barbets all over the place. We also saw a couple of raptors that we battled to ID. But we had good fun in our failure – it’s all part of the learning. Further debates ensued on whether the male violet backed starling loses his colour in winter because we saw one still looking beautifully violet. Faithful Roberts helped out – apparently they do but it may only happen as late as May.

There were quite a few butterflies but not many co-operated with the photo taking attempts .The one I did manage to photograph is apparently a Layman, thanks to Sandi du Preez for ID.

The day ended with us sitting on a bench watching a pied kingfisher flying to and fro and a well-earned drink.

Some Photos – Penny de Vries:

pygmy kingfisher
pygmy kingfisher
spoonbill
spoonbill
when birding is a pain in the neck
when birding is a pain in the neck
white eared barbet at work
white eared barbet at work
african darter
african darter
bee-eaters having a chat
bee-eaters having a chat
layman butterfly
layman butterfly
malachite kingfisher
malachite kingfisher