Rufousnaped Lark

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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Week 07 - Zaagkuildrift Rd

When I set my alarm on Saturday night for 03h30 sunday morning it was with mixed feelings. I was excited about the trip but dreading the early wake-up, especially when my alarm infomed me there were only 5hrs and few minutes before the alarm would awaken me to the tune of a Grey Tit-flycatcher...I had to collect my bud Tommy, who had agreed to accompany me, so there was no chance of rolling over in the morning and killing the alarm.

We duly arrived at the start of the, roughly 25km, drive at 05h30 with the sky just beginning to lighten. It was a bit chilly so we stopped to get a cup of coffee out of the flask and immediately spotted a Marsh Owl hunting over the grasslands. As the light strengthened we set off along the dirt road for Kgomo-Kgomo. Burchells Coucals were out and about quite early and we spotted this one enjoying the first rays of the morning.



Burchells Coucal


European Marsh Warblers were in abundance as were Willow Warblers, both of which we heard calling everytime we stopped to check other more visible birds. We tried on many occassions to get them come out for a photo shoot but they preferred to remain hidden in the dense bushes next to the road. Another common migrant on this road is the Red-backed Shrike which could be heard almost every 100m.


Sub-adult male Red-backed Shrike still showing some immature plumage on the breast!

We found a European Roller along the road. These birds have spread all the way down to the Western Cape this year with several being seen in different locations around the South Western part of South Africa. We did not see any of the resident Lilac-breasted Rollers on the day.



European Roller
 
At one stage we encountered a few Levaillants Cuckoos which we identified by call. They later flew over the road and one individual sat in the open for a quick snap!


Levaillants Cuckoo

We also encountered a Village Indigobird calling from the top of a tree, these are quite common in this area and are found quite regularly.


Village Indigobird

Many of the photos I took were from a distance as the birds are quite skittish and stay away from the edge of the road. My best bird for the day was definately the Orange-breasted Bush-shrike as I often hear them but views are not always optimal. This chap was very obliging and allowed good binocular views, again photographing them at close range is not always an option..at least you can get an idea of what he looked like! Handsome, isn't he! The call is similar to someone whistling for his dog!




Orange-breasted Bush-shrike
 
Immature Southern Masked Weavers were busy trying out their nest building skills and even stealing material from each others nests. This guy still has some way to go before a female will accept his attempts!



Immature Southern Masked Weaver
 
Another very vocal bird is the Magpie Shrike which has a musical whistled peeroo-peeroo call heard often along the road.


Magpie Shrike

A pair of Cardinal Woodpeckers were busy excavating a nest hole and with a bit of persuasion we enticed the male out for qick pic.


Male Cardinal Woodpecker

Three species of waxbill are often found in the area. Blue, Black-cheeked and Violet-eared Waxbill of which the Blue is the most common.



Blue Waxbill
 
There are also three species of Whydah found here, Pin-tailed, Long-tailed Paradise and Shaft-tailed Whydah. We only managed to find two of the three as Shaft-tailed eluded us, they are most often found on Crake road but this seems to have been closed to the public.




Long-tailed Paradise Whydah
 
Rufousnaped Larks are common along the grassy stretches of Zaagkuildrift rd and Sabota Larks prefer the woodlands. By the time we found this individual it had heated up and he looked decidedly hot and bothered.



Sabota Lark


The heat also brought out the butterflies and I got a few new species for my photo database. The mud puddles along the road provided a gathering point for quite a few species including African Leopard, Brown-veined Whites, Zebra Whites, White-cloaked Skippers, Yellow and Blue Pansies, Small Elfins, Common Diadem and Broadbordered Grass Yellows.




From left to right Zebra White, 2x Brownveined Whites and White cloaked Skipper


Small Elfin


African Leopard

Eventually we reached Kgomo-Kgomo with its wide floodplain after a 5hr drive. We were not disappointed as the floodplain near the bridge was full of waterbirds (no pics unfortunately). Interesting birds in the village were Red-headed Finch (which are common in my garden) and two Greater Kestrel hunting insects.



Red-headed Finch


Greater Kestrel

Other birds worth mentioning were Great Spotted Cuckoo, Black Stork, Painted Snipe and some birders reported a Striped Crake but we had no luck locating it....

All in all it was a very leisurely mornings birding and the food was good, I tried to officially designate Lorraine (Tommys other half) as our chief sandwich maker but she surprisingly declined?? Our tally for the day was 117 species in roughly 6 hours even though we missed some common birds found on the Kgomo-Kgomo floodplain that were conspicuous in their absence.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Week 6 - Amsterdam Rd Raslouw

Week 5 was a drag as I didn't get out birding at all, with my son taking part in a squash tournament all birding activities were halted. My 50D camera is also on the blink so I have to use my 350D...

This morning however I got up at about 06h30 to go and look for the Cuckoofinchs and Melodius Larks that were reported by Etienne Marais. Etienne discovered the excellent grassveld birding in this area and is the co-author of a book (with Faansie Peacock) entitled "The Chamberlain guide to Birding Gauteng" where they share some of the prime birding spots in the region. The area consists of highveld grassland, which is accessible by travelling along an aircraft runway, and a dump site for city refuge..




Long-tailed Widow Immature practising for adulthood!
 
At first it was really quiet but then I began finding the flocks of grassland birds, like Red Bishops, Masked Weavers, Red-Collared and Long-tailed Widows. Cuckoofinches are often found foraging with these flocks so I took time to check out each bird carefully. After about an hour I found an adult female and a juvenile Cuckoofinch.



Cuckoofinch Female
 
I also realised today that I have a lot to learn about bird identification. A while ago I photographed an Aghulas Clapper Lark with a very intricate pattern on the back and deduced from this that the Eastern Clapper Lark must have similar markings.....I thought that I had this ID mailed down and whenever I photographed a lark with detailed patterning on the back, determined that they must be Clappers. Until I saw a calling Rufousnaped Lark at Vernon Crookes in Natal with similar back patterns as "my" Clappers which destroyed my theory totally. So all my photos were immature Rufousnaped Larks...but today a displaying Clapper Lark landed right in front of me in the short grass. So here is a genuine Clapper Lark!!



Eastern Clapper Lark
  This is the first time I have seen one so close in and in such detail (the previous ones were ticked on distant display views only). Note the shorter, more conical bill, the darker appearance, less streaking on the breast and "fiercer more grizzled look".

Another interesting sighting was a Black Kite amongst a group of Yellow-billed Kites.



Black Kite below Yellow-billed Kite


Pipits are probably the toughest of groups to identify and this one was no exception. It was small, breast and facial markings indistinct, lower mandible pinkish, outer tail feathers were buffy on one side but appeared white on the other, tail wagging was slow to non-existant, tibia exceptionally long and back markings distinct.. I would say it is an Afican Pipit but some features were strange like the indistinct markings on the breast and face and the pink lower mandible. Anyway decide for yourself..










Mystery Pipit (9)

I went to the model flying clubs runway to look for the Melodius Larks and heard them calling but could not see them from the road. Finally, the last bird for the day was an immature Lanner Falcon, this is the first time I have seen them in the Centurion area.


Lanner Falcon Immature

So not a bad mornings birding for a local suburb, 47 species in total!

Week 4 (Part 2) - Smuts House

After the great days birding at the botanical gardens I wanted more and so decided to take the dog for a walk around the kopje at the Smuts House Museum which is actually the farm that used to belong to General Jan Smuts. I was interested in getting the Little Sparrowhawks that used to breed here but could not find them. The Ovambo Sparrowhawk was present however as well as the usuals around the museum itself including a handsome male Cardinal Woodpecker which was foraging in the white stinkwoods near the restaurant (I was too slow for a picture again). Neddickys are very common on the kopje walk but not so easy to photograph. They are quite drab little birds with non-descript markings and a reedy little call which is not unlike a bicycle pump in action, tseep-tseep-tseep-tseep etc..


Neddicky from different angle
 

The kopje used to be crawling with Dark-capped Bulbuls but their numbers seemed to have decreased over the years. Another bird which is often found on the kopje is the Cinnamon-breasted Bunting but they are also difficult to approach and photograph (perhaps I should wear my leaf suit to get closer?). A distant shot of this attractive bird was all I could manage.


Cinnamon-breasted Bunting

On the way back along the road past the G.E.M. village the seedeaters were having a field day with the tall grass in full seed. As previously mentioned there has been a lot of rain in our area and the grass is quite tall. There were Black-throated Canaries, Grey-headed Sparrows, Red Bishops, Masked Weavers, Common Waxbills and among the more common birds was an adult male Purple Indigobird calling and displaying from the tall trees in the area next to the staff quarters.


Purple Indigobird

A Lesser Honeyguide was observed in the Eucalyptus trees in the parking lot. Not an overly exciting outing as far as birds are concerned but the Indigobird was definately the highlight..

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Week 04 (Part1) - Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens



Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens
 
With the word out that there was a rare Grey Wagtail at the Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens I knew that this was the place to visit. I had been contemplating travelling the 300 plus kilometers to see the pair at Debengeni Falls but the Grey Wagtail decided to come to me, is that lucky or what?? Unfortunately with having to work to pay for my hobby I had to wait until Friday afternoon to get there. On the way I passed through a heavy thuderstorm which I thought was going to spoil my plans for a quick twitch but luckily the gardens were clear and sunny.

I arrived at the gate to find it already closed and had to perform some major begging and pleading before the gate personnel let me in.....I took a stroll down to the bridge where I had been told the bird was present, only to be told the bird had flown two minutes earlier (If only i hadn't stoppped to photograph the Mousebirds and the Bokmakierie), so along with a few other people the search began.



Speckled Mousebird eating leaves


Bokmakierie with tasty morsel


Bokmakierie posing
 Eventually I saw the bird fly past me and perch in a tree with a beautiful sunset right behind it! I managed to get one dodgy shot before the bird took off in the direction of the waterfall, further searches were unsuccessful and I decided to head for home and try again in the morning.



My first attempt at the Grey Wagtail (lifer views)

I found an immature Amethyst Sunbird on the way out which I chased around for a photo.


Juvenile Amethyst Sunbird

Saturday morning was a beautiful day and I was at the gardens at 06h45 (ok, so I slept in a bit....I work hard sometimes), even though the gates only open at 08h00 I slipped in through the staff entrance (I did pay later of course). My first bird was an immature male White-bellied Sunbird feeding on some Aloe flowers which I was able to photograph at quite close range.



Immature Male White-bellied Sunbird


Enjoying some nectar

There were a few bulbuls about and a Steppe Buzzard soared over the waterfall, Canaries chirped and whistled from the tops of the trees and Red-chested Cuckoos called from the taller trees near the stream (is this poetic or what?).

While waiting for the Wagtail to make his appearance I had time to stroll around the gardens which was almost swarming with Cuckoos, I had good views of Red-chested, Black and Didericks Cuckoos.




Red-chested Cuckoo
 

African Black Cuckoo

 While strolling through the wooded part of the gardens I picked up a Southern Boubou and had a close shave with an active bee hive in the process.



Southern Boubou


African Bees

Eventually the Grey Wagtail put in an appearance at about 09h00 (my kind of bird) but he  stuck to the shadows on the far bank of the stream, just to test our photography skills..... I was able to get a few shots  which I thought were keepers but as you can see......



Grey Wagtail

After a long wait at a section of the river that looked like good wagtail foraging habitat (just around a bend in the river from the wagtails favoured spot), I decided to call it a day and headed for the gate. On the way out again I then spent a few minutes photographing a confiding Tawny-flanked Prinia.
   



Tawny-flanked Prinia (3)

All in all it was a great mornings birding, with some good conversation and relaxing surroundings. I suppose I will have to come back again if the wagtail is still here next week for another photo attempt. Cheers!