Rufousnaped Lark

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Monday, November 28, 2011

Flashback: Kgalagadi National Park - Part 3 Twee Rivieren to Nossob

Interesting place names in Kgalagadi


26 Sept 2009 - After signing out at the reception building we set off on the road to Nossob. Immediately things started to happen with a Verreauxs (Giant) Eagle-Owl sitting in a tree next to the road not 100m from the gate.


Verreauxs Eagle-Owl

Then our first close ups of Sociable Weavers which build huge grass nests housing several birds including Pygmy Falcons, Barn Owls and even the odd Cape Cobra. The Verreauxs Eagle-Owls often nest on top of them..


Sociable Weaver

Sociable Weaver Nest (note weaver flying past to guage size)

The sand here is very red and we noticed lots of little holes in the ground which housed some interesting mammal species that neither I nor my family had never seen before.

Brants Whistling Rat

Four-striped Mouse

We started seeing larger mammals like Blue Wildebeest which were common in the park, the iconic Springbok and the smaller Steenbok. The road to Nossob from Twee Rivieren normally follows the Nossob river but due to extensive road works we were re-routed along the Auob River to Kamqua where we were to take the upper dune road to Dikbaardskolk and then continue along the Nossob river to Nossob camp. The habitat was very dry and we picked up a few of the dryland bird species like Black-chested Prinia, Chat Flycatcher, Namaqua Sandgrouse and the colourful Swallow-tailed Bee-eaters which proved to be very common in the park.

Black-chested Prinia

Chat Flycatcher

Namaqua Sandgrouse


Swallow-tailed Bee-eater

We encountered Red Hartebeest and our first Oryx (Gemsbok), the parks emblem along the dry Aoub river.

Red Hartebeest

Oryx (Gemsbok)

Ostrich were seen in the riverbed and a lone Cape Crow.


Female Ostrich


Cape Crow

As the day started warming up we picked up raptors catching the thermals overhead, among others Tawny Eagles and Black-breasted Snake-Eagle.


Tawny Eagle

Immature Black-breasted Snake-Eagle

The day was really heating up and birds were looking for whatever cover they could find to escape the relentless sun. Luckily the trucks air-conditioning helped us to stay cool although the opening of windows to take photos didn't go down well with the rest of the family as it let all the warm air in and the cooling had to start all over again. Along the dune road we saw a few larks including a form of Spike-heeled Lark with a much longer bill than "ours" back in Gauteng. Fawn-coloured Larks were the most ubiquitous of the lark family.

Spike-heeled Lark

Fawn-coloured Lark

Other birds seen along the dune road were a Lanner Falcon, too far for a good photo, a couple of Secretarybirds and a Kori Bustard resting in the shade under a Shepherds tree.


Secretarybird

Kori Bustard

Eventually after a long hot drive we reached the picnic site at Dikbaardskolk where we could get out and stretch our legs. Birds in the picnic areas are very tame and boldly approach you for a handout or two. At this picnic site it was a Kalahari Scrub-robin. Other birds in the picnic area were Sociable Weavers and Violet-eared Waxbill.

Kalahari Scrub-robin

All along the road we encountered lizard like reptiles I immediately named them Commando Lizards because they appeared to be wearing camouflage outfits. I later found out that they were actually Ground Agamas..


Commando Lizard (Ground Agama)

Getting nearer to Nossob, we decided to take a detour to visit Marie se Gat (Maries hole) which is so named because the man contracted to dig the well used to get so drunk he couldn't work, so his wife got in and completed the well alone!! The trees in the riverbed held some birds, one of which was occupied by a White-backed Vulture pair and further down a lone Tawny Eagle.


White-backed Vultures


Tawny Eagle

Here we also found our first predatory mammals. A Black-backed Jackal and in the distance, two pairs of ears sticking above the river bank gave away a pair of Cheetah lying in the shade. After a long wait they hadn't moved so we continued on our journey.

Black-backed Jackal


Cheetah

Flocks of Scaly-feathered finch were very busy around the waterhole and I thought I saw my first Red-necked Falcon but could not be sure..

Scaly-feathered Finch

Finally we arrived at Nossob after about 5 hrs on the road in the hot sun, luckily it was only autumn... At the gate to the camp I had the pleasure of spending time with another very confiding bird, a Crimson-breasted Shrike! I sat on the ground quietly and he/she carried on foraging around me as if I wasn't there, it was quite frustrating as the bird came soo close I couldn't focus sometimes.

Crimson-breasted Shrike

After a nice cooling swim in the camp pool and an ice cold beer from the freezer I spent the last minutes of the day on the patio of our chalet enjoying the sunset. After the sun had set the camp was filled with the beautiful clicking sounds of the Barking Geckos, a sound I will always associate with Kgalagadi, and the churring sound of Rufous-cheeked Nightjar calling from inside the camp. My son and I set off immediately to locate these potential photo lifers and without too much effort found one calling not from our chalet.

Rufous-cheeked Nightjar

What a day, filled with wildlife and beautiful panoramas! I could see why people say that once you have been to Kgalagadi you will always want to come back. I couldn't wait to hit the road again in the morning to see what other treasures awaited us in this wonderland!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Week 47 - Amsterdam Rd, Raslouw

After receiving info that the Cuckoofinches and Melodius Larks were back in the area I set off early on Sunday to try and find them. This area is buzzing with birds and I immediately started assembling a fairly impressive list.

We had had some good rain the previous night and the birds were in full song, four swallow species filled the skys along with three swift species and calling larks were all around me (until you pull a camera of course). Eastern Clapper Larks were probably the most common with at least 5 birds calling and displaying within a 50 meter radius of my vehicle. Cisticolas were also calling and displaying with Zitting, Desert and Cloud Cisticolas present.

A Typical view and lucky photo of a Zitting Cisticola

This area is also crawling with Northern Black Korhaan which are extremely vociferous and active at this time of year. Suddenly out of this chorus I heard another familiar but slightly out of place call, a Barrows Korhaan being hounded in flight by a male and female Nothern Black. I followed the birds and after much searching with my bins, located the Barrows on the far side of a fallow field, I decided to drive closer but could not locate the bird again until it burst off the ground and flew across to the area i had just come from...

Quickly heading back, I located the bird in taller grass and managed to approach to about 20m for a few photos before the bird flew off again where I lost it in the tall grass.


Barrows Korhaan (2)

Well this definately made the trip worthwhile and heading back home again I spotted a kestrel on the electricity pylons close by. On closer inspection I located two Greater Kestrel fledglings sitting low down on the pylon which allowed a close approach and even posed for some photos..


Greater Kestrel Fledglings (2)

While photographing the birds I noticed a group of hunters with catapults and a large pack of dogs combing the area for whatever they could find.. Luckily they passed far from the pylon and the two kestrels. I have encountered these hunters before who chase up hares or small buck and allow their dogs to chase, kill and devour the quarry just for sport..

Hunters in the veld

I can imagine what would have happened to the kestrels if they had been seen...

Week 44 - Gordons Bay

Our high school reunion was held in Cape Town this year so an old school friend and I flew down for the weekend. We stayed with my parents in Gordons Bay (felt like old times when he used to stay over with us way back when) which gave me a chance to try and photograph some Gordons Bay garden birds..

On arrival at the house, which is situated aginst the nature reserve on the slopes overlooking Gordons Bay, I looked up the mountain and spotted a Peregrine Falcon preening on a dead tree. Not a bad start to the weekend!!

Peregrine Falcon

There was a Malachite Sunbird pair which were nesting in a Protea bush below the balcony of the house which was perfect for some photo opportunities without too much effort (Lazy Birder heaven).. This was not as easy as I thought it would be as the bird was flitting between two or three perches that were either too far for my lens or right into the bright skylight. Anyway I got some pics that are not really Pulitzer prize winning stuff but you can see they are Malachite Sunbirds..


Malachite Sunbird Male on the furthest perch


Male on the medium distance palm perch (in the shade)

Male on the closest perch with bright sky behind it!

Malachite Sunbird female

Visitors to the garden include these Cape Spurfowl which, I've noticed from experience, seem to be very confiding and easily approachable in quite a few birding locations around the Cape.

Cape Spurfowl

Well with only one day to spare and some catching up to do with friends and family these were the best I got from the trip..cheers!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Flashback: Kgalagadi National Park - Part 2 Twee Rivieren

Twee Rivieren

25 Sept 2009 - After a liesurely breakfast at Augrabies, we packed up our camp and set off to Upington for supplies. The town was very busy as it was probably payday and everyone had hit the shops to get groceries. Supplies replenished, we filled up and travelled the 260 odd kilometers to the park gate at Twee Rivieren. People had told me stories of the terrible condition of the roads to Askham but this seems to be a thing of the past as we had beautiful tarred roads all the way to the Twee Rivieren gate. One thing I could mention is that the roads have several curves which could be tricky if travelling too fast and not concentrating. I was eager to get to the park so we did not stop for any birding along the way.

The Park gates eventually loomed into view looking like a setting from a Star Wars movie, you know .... on the planet Tatooine..


Kgalagadi National Park gates at Twee Rivieren

  The facilities at Twee Rivieren are very neat and there is a swimming pool for a welcome dip after a long drive. We stayed in a one of the chalets which was clean and cool inside.


Twee Rivieren Chalets (2)

As soon as we stopped in front of our chalet to offload a Familiar Chat flew in to inspect the front bumber of the vehicle for freshly killed insects...the Afrikaans name for this species is "gewone spek-vreeter" (common fat eater) so called for its habit of eating the grease used to lubricate the axles of the ox-wagons.

Familiar Chat

Ground squirrels are very common in the camp and their burrows can be seen everywhere.

Ground Squirrel

All the animals around camp are fairly tame and allow a close approach which is good for photography. Once we had un-packed and got the braai started we were visited by a Yellow Mongoose who sniffed around, hoping for something to eat.


Yellow Mongoose

Hopefully this meant there weren't any snakes about!

Another common bird in the camp is the White-browed Sparrow-weavers whose nests looks as if someone has thrown handfuls of straw into the trees. These birds have a rather raucous but not unpleasant call.


White-browed Sparrow-weavers


Early the next morning I got up for a walk to see what was about. The tracks in the sand indicated that it had been a very busy night.

Tracks in the sand

I heard a Pririt Batis calling from the trees to the east of the camp and immediately set off in search of this neat looking bird. I quickly found it foraging through the thorn trees but getting it to pose for a piccie was a mission as it stayed on the opposite side of the tree from me wouldn't come out into the open. I got some record shots but nothing really special.


Pririt Batis

The birds had started out on their morning foraging trips and I ticked quite a few for my trip list. Some worth mentioning were..Yellow-bellied Eremomela, Bokmakierie, Brubru and Marico Flycatcher which were all seen within a few metres of the chalet.

Ashy Tit

Marico Flycatcher

Once everyone was up, we once again packed up, deflated our tyres as per the park rules and set off on the long dirt road to Nossob which was to be our base for the next 3 nights.