Rufousnaped Lark

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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Week 48 - Bishop Bird Park


I was a bit undecided as to where to go birding on Sunday. Mkhombo Dam had a lot of specials going for it but it was a bit far for a 05h00 start, so I decided on Bishop Bird Park which is within 5 minutes travel from  our house. This small park has produced some real specials in the past and is always worth a visit.



The parks namesake - Southern Red Bishop
 The dew was still wet on the grass when I started my walk in the park and was also very quiet. I had begun to think I had chosen the wrong birding venue when I heard a Hamerkop calling from a bushy area where there is a small dam. On my way to find the Hamerkop I discovered an Immature Little Sparrowhawk close to the main path He was intent on preening and had obviously just finished his morning bath. I managed one close photo before he took off for a tall dead tree, it is just a pity that he was looking away from me


Immature Little Sparrowhawk

This reserve seems to be a training ground for Southern Masked Weavers as there are several young birds scattered around the park practising their nest building skills. These birds are not yet full adults and do not sport the typical breeding plumage of the adult males but they are all hard at work building nests which range from misshapen balls of grass to fairly decent, albeit odd shaped, weaver nests.



Immature Southern Masked Weaver - apprentice nest builder

One of my favourite local birds the Cape Glossy Starling, is also common in the reserve. I just love the way their feathers shine in the sunlight which is not that easy to capture in a photograph


Cape Glossy Starling

An interesting bird for the park and one that I have never seen there before was a single African Olive Pigeon. I have seen flocks of them in the surrounding suburb before but never here at Bishop Bird Park.


African Olive Pigeon

I also noticed that the summer migrants seem to be back in numbers. I had good views of Spotted Flycatcher and a female Dideriks Cuckoo. Willow Warblers are common at the moment and I found them in almost every bush, photographing them however is not for the stressed individual.




Spotted Flycatcher


Female Dideriks Cuckoo



Willow Warbler

Other migrants to the park were the Brownveined White butterflies who undertake a local migration at this time of year and can be seen in large numbers around the Gauteng area. Here they were taking advantage of the numerous blossoms adorning the Acacia Karoo trees in the Park.


Brownveined White


My last bird for the morning was the ubiquitous White-bellied Sunbird that are commonly heard calling from the tops of the trees around the area in summer. They are also one of the more brightly coloured birds found in the park.



Male White-bellied Sunbird

All in all I ticked a total of 44 species in two hours birding in this small bird park which is situated in the middle of a plethora of townhouses and security housing complexes. Next time I hope to report on my trip to Mkhombo Dam which has some real specials at present in the form of Pygmy Goose, Pectoral Sandpiper and Ruddy Turnstone.....Cheers G..

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Week 47 - Garden Birding

This last weekend was a busy one as I had to work, cut the grass and watch rugby but I managed to get out for some garden birding on Sunday . There wasn't much about however so I had to be content with the usual visitors..


The Southern Masked Weaver busy trying to woo females to his nests!
 We have had a bit of rain so everything is turning green and the birds are all busy with breeding activities. I had to put some food out to attract some more photo subjects. The Grey Go-Away bird was quick to respond to some apples I put out.


Grey Go-away Bird
I have recently purchased an extender for my flash unit and I am getting some good results with it. This Cape Sparrow female was in total shadow which is normally good for a shutter speed of around 120 (f5.6) at ISO 500 but I got this at 800 (f5.6) with the same ISO setting.

Cape Sparrow female
The Karoo Thrush are in full breeding mode and have been constantly singing and displaying since the Spring. I think they are on their second broods already. They regularly come down to the bird bath for a sip of water.


Karoo Thrush

One of the highlights for the day was seeing a single Bronze Mannikin near the seed feeders. I haven't seen this species in the garden since July when a flock of 16 came in for a feed. I couldn't get a photo of this one however.


Bronze Mannikin (taken in July)
 Last year the Paradise Flycatchers bred in our garden and produced two healthy chicks which both fledged successfully and were last seen in good health towards the end of last summer. I was really pleased this morning when I heard them this morning for the first time this Spring and was even more excited to see a male displaying to his female right outside our front door. Hopefully they will use the Acacia Karoo we planted there which should be perfect for their nesting purposes.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Chasing lifers in Wakkerstroom

Every November I say to myself "I will go to Wakkerstroom this year" and then something comes up. This has gone on for at least 10 years (talk about procrastinating) and this year I decided that this is the year.

Wakkerstroom is situated in a beautiful valley, 27kms from the town of Volksrust. It lies at an altitude of 1760m and Newcastle and Piet Retief are the closest big towns, both 80km away. The Wakkerstroom district is a major farming area, with the main crop being maize. Cattle and sheep are the main livestock farmed in the area. What makes Wakkerstroom so special is that it is one one of South Africa's premier birding destinations. There are three bird habitat types in the area - wetlands, grasslands and forests and this, together with the mountains make for great birding. It is also home to three bird species that have been on my want list for a long time.....Yellow-breasted Pipit, Rudds Lark and Bothas Lark.

I booked a campsite for myself and a friend, Andrew (a first time birder), who would be joining me with his wife, Anneli, and three year old daughter Abi who couldn't wait to try out her new binoculars on some real birds. Seeing as we were going for such a short time I also arranged a bird guide to meet us on the Sunday morning to find the birds quickly for us.



Looking over the wetland at Wakkerstroom from the Birdlife campsite
 

It was a beautiful sunny day when we arrived late on Saturday afternoon. We immediately set up camp at the Birdlife Centre then set off for a drive to try for Yellow-breasted Pipit. By following the directions in the excellent book "Birding Gauteng" by Etienne Marais and Faansie Peacock, we quickly found the birds mentioned in the text in almost the exact locations specified. In fact the only one we didn't see was a Ground Woodpecker. In the field on top of the mountain next to the Utrecht road junction we found the first of my target birds in the form of a Yellow-breasted Pipit. Two birds were seen foraging and eventually the male performed a display flight almost right above me....it was only after they had flown off that I realised I had not taken any photos....... here is a photo of the field they were in for you.



Yellow-breasted Pipit site
 
On the way back we came across a very obliging Buff-streaked Chat next to the road who really didn't mind a photo or two and posed for a quick session.




Buff-streaked Chat
 




Back at the camp we got the braai going for supper and heard Grey-crowned Cranes calling from the wetland below the camp. Abi got her designer bins out with the crystal clear view (no magnification however)..

That evening was rather quiet but we could hear the Red-chested Flufftails calling faintly in the distance. After supper we headed off to bed in anticipation of an early start where I discovered sleeping on the ground on a thin mattress was probably what it is like sleeping on a padded ironing board.













The next morning saw us getting up at 5 am and heading off to Wakkerstroom town in very overcast and misty conditions to meet up with our guide "Lucky". He took us off in the direction of Dirkiesdorp to look for Black-winged Lapwing, another on my want list, but the site where they had been seen on Friday was covered in thick mist and unfortunately we dipped on this one. During the hunt however we saw a few small groups of Bald Ibis foraging through the grasslands.



Southern Bald Ibis
 
The weather had turned cold and everyone was freezing by the time we reached the Bothas Lark site (only Lucky will know how we got there after all the bumps and turns). We parked next to a small family homestead and set off into the grass to find this elusive species. Within a few mintues we heard the Lark call and picked up a bird landing in the grass ahead but they are extremely cautious and do not allow a close approach. I only managed good binocular views and a very long distance photo for the record.



Bothas Lark - note the pink bill and you can just make out the whitish belly
 
With number two in the bag we set off for Fickland Pan to look for Rudds Lark which we also found very quickly after entering the field. Lucky proved to be an excellent guide and we were able to get quite a few pictures even though the bird was highly un-cooperative and kept hiding behind the taller grass tufts.



Rudds Lark
 


Note diagnostic streak through the crown
 


Always on the move!!
 

While driving along the dirt roads at Fickland we disturbed four Blue Korhaans who were busy with courtship chases through the grass. They all squat down in the grass as you approach and only take off at the last minute. The mist was at ground level at this stage making the photos seem a bit soft.



Blue Korhaans in the mist
 
All in all it was an excellent day and a half's birding which produced a bird list of 100 species including three lifers for my list. There are so many great birding locations in the Wakkerstroom area that you would need at least 3 to 4 days to get to all of them......I know I will be back to at least get better Bothas Lark photos!!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Rietvlei Dam Nature Reserve

After a day of working in the garden, braaiing and watching the Springboks almost finish in a draw after leading for most of the game against Ireland in the first test of their overseas tour, I decided I needed to do some serious birding. So being the Lazy Birder that I am I chose Rietvlei Dam NR the next day because it is close and I wouldn't have to get up so early. I wanted to be out the door by 5:30am at the latest but only woke up at 6:15am.....so arrived at the gates at 6:50am. The weather wasn't too bad, a bit cool for a short sleeved shirt and shorts, with a bit of cloud about. There didn't seem to be too many cars about which was perfect for my style of slow driving and checking out everything I saw.

At the gates I started ticking with a pair of Cape Sparrows, followed by a Streaky-headed Seedeater in full song about 100m down the road. These birds are not something we see a lot of around our garden so I stopped to watch a while and got in a few piccies..

Streaky-headed Seedeater showing where he got his name from!

The veld is still quite brown and dry with green grass coming through in the patches that burnt out during the winter months. Widows are in abundance with both the Long-tailed and Red-collared Widows displaying over their territories. These are always quite difficult birds to photograph because of their long tails but I kind of like this one image that I managed to capture...


Long-tailed Widow
 
One of the most common birds at Rietvlei are the Rufousnaped Larks which call incessantly during the summer months and display from any conveniently raised post, which could be a termite mound, bush, fence post or No Entry signboard. I always enjoy to watch and try to photograph their display which consists of a continuous "trilee triloo" call interspersed with a quick flap of the wings which lifts the bird momentarily into the air...after about 100 shots I got these few images..



Rufous-naped Lark Displaying

Down at the small dam upstream from the picnic site I found the usual birds like Yellow-billed Duck, Moorhen, Wood Sandpiper, Little Egret and a first in Rietvlei for me was a Yellow-billed Egret which didn't stay for a photo session unfortunately. I also witnessed a couple of Sacred Ibis squabbling over a huge frog which I assume was a Bullfrog. The two birds pecked at the hapless bullfrog for quite some time before deciding it was too big to swallow and too tough to tear apart. By the time they gave up and left it the frog was already dead.

Sacred Ibis with the Bullfrog prey

On the Vlei route I found another first for me at Rietvlei in the form of a Violet-backed Starling pair which kept just out of reach for a decent photo. I tried a long shot however just to show the stunning colour that the male bird is named for but the photo doesn't really do it justice...the female is a rather drab streaked bird which I think is not too unattractive.

Male Violet-backed Starling

At the end of the Vlei route I stopped at the fountain hide to check if there were any waxbills around only to find that almost every bush in the fenced off area had its own calling (European) Marsh Warbler in it. I spent another hour waiting for one to show himself but they are extremely wary and only show themselves very briefly. I did however manage to get one dodgy photo before I gave up and went back to the car.


(European) Marsh Warbler ..you can just make out the sloped forehead and notice the wings extending past the rump.


At the Island View hide, a White-throated Swallow had made its nest and successfully hatched three chicks who popped their heads up at the slightest noise or disturbance. The adults were completely relaxed with me sitting there quietly stealing the odd picture. One thing I noticed was that every time I took a photo and the flash went off the three chicks would beg for food, looking just like three little opera singers....I really enjoyed this opportunity to just relax and get some nice photos.


One of the adult White-throated Swallows taking a break

White-throated Swallow at the nest

The Three Sopranos!!

Finally on the way out of the reserve I came across a female Giant Kingfisher looking for lunch at the bridge next to the new wier. She sat there for quite some time carefully watching the pool below and seemingly undisturbed by my close proximity. After about 10 minutes she launched herself down into the pool and came up with a smallish Banded Tilapia or Bream as it is more commonly known....She then flew up to a branch, beat the fish to death and swallowed it whole!



Watching the pool below!


Got one and down the hatch it goes!

All in all it was not a bad days birding, I managed to get some photos and a bird list for the day of 79 species in total.....

Friday, November 5, 2010

Early Birds

This morning was typical of my luck with birding. Firstly the Cape Robin was perched nicely on an old tree stump and when I went to get the camera it had gone (naturally). Then I heard the Fiscal Flycatchers calling and found them near the washline in the back yard so I went out with the bins and managed to get quite close. When I decided that they may be prepared to let me photograph them and went to fetch the camera, they had other ideas and took off for the neighbours garden. I decided to set up the camera and wait a while but as I was setting up the tripod they flew in, watched what I was doing and flew off as I was ready for the shot.

So I wait, the phone rings, I move away from the camera as I answer the phone, an Amethyst Sunbird lands right in front of the camera, I move back, the Sunbird flys off.....Some people will say "you have days like this", with me its much too often. So, unfortunately there are no photos today but maybe next time...

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Introduction



Early morning on Zaagkuildrift Road - North West Province
  I am a South African birder living in the south of Pretoria in the province of Gauteng. The reason I thought of this name for my blog is that I really love birds and birding but the thought of getting in my car and driving off at 2 or even 4a.m. to get to a prime birding site by first light is enough to make me roll over and go back to sleep. This means that most weekends I end up birding in the garden or some local park that I can get to in 5 to 10 minutes, which is not always bad.......I mean I have had species like Southern Whitefaced Owl, Little Bittern and Ovambo Sparrowhawk right in my back yard. What I hope to achieve with this blog is to share some of the birds I have seen on my weekend and holiday trips with my friends and family without too many hassles.