Rufousnaped Lark

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Monday, April 6, 2020

Marievale - December 2018

Marievale is always a great place to visit to catch up on your waders for the year. I went there on the 19th December after our country had experienced quite a serious drought for a few years and had just had some rain the night before. There hadn't been much rain and the water levels were very low which is normally good for the waders. Oh, and did I mention that a rare Black-tailed Godwit had also been seen here...not that I am a twitcher by any means.

I don't often see Pied Avocet here but conditions must have been perfect for them as there were quite a number, wading belly deep and picking up insects in the mud..


Pied Avocet (2)

The open areas allowed some good views of the other birds as well. Glossy Ibis foraged fairly close to the road and proved friendly enough to pose for a photo.

Glossy Ibis

The rain had left a few puddles next to the road which made a nice bath for some of the smaller passerines. Here a Red Bishop was busy cleaning himself up for some serious displaying..

Southern Red Bishop enjoying a puddle bath
There were nice Palearctic waders around, the usual Ruff and Little stint and a local in the form of a Kittlitzs Plover which are always nice birds to photograph as they stick around for a quick pic. Not like the others that are always on the move..

Ruff or it it a Reeve on the rough road
Ruff in breeding plumage
Kittlitz's Plover
Little Stint
Blackwinged Stilts were also around in smaller numbers with their bright pink legs and pied plumage.

Black-winged Stilt
At the Kingfisher Hide next to the picnic site we heard the raspy call of an African Reed -warbler and with a bit of patience, got to see it and get a dodgy photograph for the record.

African Reed Warbler
Squacco Herons are always quite common here as they stand out in the open waiting for prey to make a mistake and show themselves within striking distance. You can see they are so successful, as they face towards you the profile is extremely narrow and probably hard to see from under the water.

Squacco Heron
Finally into the gated area, with some nice wader habitat to the left of the road. We searched for the Black-tailed Godwit and luckily enough got to see it at a distance. It wasn't going to come any closer so I had to get out the longer lens and get some record shots..

Black-tailed Godwit with Ruff for size comparison

Black-tailed Godwit

My last photographed bird for the day and a new tick for the year, this Great Crested Grebe is always a nice bird to see..

Great Crested Grebe

With that in the bag and total list of 96 species for the morning, we headed the 100km back home to Pretoria feeling rather satisfied with having the rare Blackwit on the year list!

Friday, April 3, 2020

Rietvlei Nature Reserve - June 2018

Rietvlei is another great place to visit. Not only can one see 100 plus species of bird in one day in summer and 80 plus species in winter but there are a number of mammals as well. They have large herds of antelope and zebra as well as bushpig and small predators like serval and genet to see.

Zebra foals at play
These zebra foals were quite tame and allowed me to pass quite close to them, I couldn't resist touching one only to find that his baby fur was full of static and instead of being soft and fluffy, felt like a thousand pins pricking my fingers. Quite a disappointment.

Cape Buffalo with Blesbok in the background
There is a large herd of about 70 buffalo on the reserve, but it is amazing how elusive they can be and remain hidden most of the time. It took me a while to see my first one but once you know their movements they can be found quite often. They mainly move along the dam inflow and sometimes appear at the Otter Bridge especially late in the afternoon.

Otter Bridge is a great place to sit and watch birds, mainly ducks and other water related birds. On this particular day, I found a small flock of Whitefronted Bee-eaters and spent hours trying to get shots of them in flight or with wings flared to land.....needless to say...I failed..

Egyptian Geese

Yellow-billed duck enjoying the last rays of sunlight
Black-winged Kite

Close up of a Speckled Mousebird



White-fronted Bee-eaters (4), last one with a captured Honey Bee
Pied Starlings silhouetted against the golden sunlight
And so ended the day! Winter offers the chance of heading to the gate after sunset and so the chance of an owl or nightjar on the road...

Marsh Owl

Stay healthy everyone!

Thursday, April 2, 2020

The Aloe Farm - June 2018

Well its been a while since my last post, but what better time to try and catch up than during a 21 day lockdown.

I thought that I would start with a few nice trips that go all the way back to June 2018. It's not that I haven't been doing any birding, its just that I haven't been doing any blogging. In fact I have qualified as a Regional Bird Guide (Savanna Biome), registered with the South Africa Tourism Board and started Galimi Guides. Most of my guiding has been volunteer guiding for the SAN Parks Honorary Rangers, which has taken me to some really great places. I will send details of these trips in the next few days.

So, back to The Aloe Farm...this is a nursery out near the Hartebeespoort Dam which specializes in...you've guessed it...Indigenous Aloe plants. The nice thing for us birders is that in the winter months when the plants are in bloom, a plethora of nectar eating birds seem to gather here for the feast which gives us a great opportunity to photograph them from quite close distances.

 This Brown-hooded Kingfisher allowed a close approach. I don't believe that he was here for the nectar but perhaps inspecting the abandoned White-fronted Bee-eater nests for a possible future home..
Brown-hooded Kingfisher
The sunbirds here are amazing with quite a number of species visiting, here are a few..

Marico Sunbird, full of nectar to pollinate the next flower
White-bellied Sunbird drinking nectar and having pollen deposited on his forehead
White-bellied Sunbird Female with a light dusting of pollen
Amethyst Sunbird

It is always difficult to capture the colours of this bird as it appears completely black until the light hits it at a certain angle. Here you can see the "amethyst" nicely under the chin..It is always to capture the colours of this bird as it appears completely black until the light hits it at a certain angle. Here you can see the "amethyst" nicely under the chin..

However sunbirds are not the only ones who are attracted to the nectar, the bulbuls, weavers and canaries also come in for an energy drink..

Cape Weaver in a Highveld Coral tree - Erythrina lysistemon
Yellow-fronted Canary
So, I hope you enjoyed the photos as much as I enjoyed taking them. I will continue to post some more as the days go on. Happy Lockdown and may you all stay well during this time! Greetings G..

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Mabusa Nature Reserve

Mabusa Nature Reserve is a little known, poorly visited reserve about 147km North East of Pretoria. The road network within the reserve doesn't seem to be well developed and to drive them one has to use a high clearance 4x4 but there is a well graded public gravel road that bisects the park and provides an ample amount of birding opportunities for the discerning birder! Some good Gauteng specials are to be found here including Lizard Buzzard, Green-capped Eremomela, Shelley's Francolin, White-backed Night Heron, Red-faced Cisticola, Wire-tailed Swallows and Short-toed Rock-thrush.

Adolf, Albert and I headed off early on the morning of the 5th May to try and find some of these elusive beasts for the year lists. Albert was on the hunt for some lifers and Adolf for some photo lifers (Adolf only ticks birds that he can capture on camera). They weren't too disappointed as the birds were out in force for the day with some really nice birds. Flappet Lark was calling and displaying over the grassland not far from the R25 tar road to Groblersdal. I had heard Shelley's Francolin calling the weekend before when I had visited with my wife but they were quiet today or foraging further afield. Green-capped Eremomela were heard near the Parks offices and we managed to get good views and captured a few images. Not real classy shots however. I call these Proctographs for obvious reasons.

A Lizard Buzzard called briefly and then flew over our heads to sit deep in the shade of a fairly leafy tree.

Green-capped Eremomela
While trying to take shots of the eremomelas, we hit on quite a nice bird party, with Black Flycatchers, Chinspot Batis, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbirds, Southern Boubou and a pair of Mocking Cliff-Chats. The male of this species was playing hard to get and refused to sit still for a decent photo.

Southern Black Flycatcher
Chinspot Batis Male
Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird
Mocking Cliff-Chat Female
Lizard Buzzard
Just across from the Parks Office gate I heard a Cape Grassbird calling from the grassy ditch, These birds can be very difficult to spot as they sit in a bush calling, with as many leaves and branches between themselves and the observer for safety. However after practicing a bit of patience, Albert got his lifer with good views and even a few good photos.

Cape Grassbird
A few meters further down the road, the Dark-capped Bulbuls were calling loudly and seemed extremely agitated. More and more birds gathered and made short forays into a particular tree. This is always a sure sign of a predator of sorts and on investigation we saw a Pearl-spotted Owlet who, although quite alert, seemed quite unperturbed about the ruckus going on around it.

Pearl-spotted Owlet
Leaving them in peace to sort out who stays and who doesn't we moved on further down the road and just before the high bridge a cinnamon coloured bird flit across in front of us and into a bush next to the railings. Cinnamon-breasted Bunting was the initial call but on closer inspection we found that it was a female Short-toed Rock-Thrush. A great bird for the Gauteng year list.

Short-toed Rock-Thrush Female
The list was growing longer as the sun got warmer and warmer. Just at the old holiday resort that is now disappearing slowly back to its original bushveld state (I think this must have been a beautiful place to stay in its heyday) we found a flock of White-crested Helmet-Shrikes.

White-crested Helmet-Shrike
Eventually it was time to start heading back and we stopped for one more photo shoot of a Streaky-headed Seedeater which was a lifer for Albert and a photo lifer for Adolf as well I think..

Streaky-headed Seedeater
Along the main R25 to Bronkhorstspruit we stopped off at Renosterkop and were lucky to see a small herd of Mountain Reedbuck grazing next to the access road. Obviously persecuted in this area, they immediately took off for the safety of the tall grass.

Mountain Reedbuck Male (trying his best to look like the Springbok Rugby emblem)
 Other nice species for the mountian were another Short-toed Rock-Thrush, Rock Kestrel and a Brown Snake-Eagle hiding among the aerials on one of the radio masts.

Rock Kestrel
Brown Snake-Eagle
And that was it for the day, we then headed back down the mountain and took the long road back to Pretoria.

It's amazing how bird dynamics work as just a week before I had visited the same area and saw other birds that did not feature in this days list. For example, Half-collared Kingfisher, Southern Black Tit, a pair of Lanner Falcon harassing a Pied Crow, Little Bee-eaters, Lazy Cisticola,  Buff-streaked Chat, Cape Rock-Thrush and Wailing Cisticola were all seen on that day.

Until next time, happy birding!!

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Rietvlei Nature Reserve - Night Drive

Rietvlei Nature Reserve, which is managed by the City of Tshwane municipality, is a perfect little reserve to get away from the city during the day, without even leaving the city, but a night drive in the reserve is very special. The cars have all gone home so you have it all to yourself, well including all the others on the game drive vehicle, and the night animals come to life and start their hunt for food!

Marsh Owl in this reserve can be considered abundant I think with one encountered around every corner but it is the other specials that can occur that is the attraction. There have been 5 owl species and 4 nightjar species recorded in this reserve which include Marsh Owl, Spotted Eagle Owl and Barn Owl which are fairly common and then the two elusive species, Grass Owl and Southern White-faced Owl representing the owls and then Rufous-cheeked and Fiery-necked Nightjar which are fairly common, Square-tailed Nightjar which is recorded occasionally and European Nightjar has also been recorded in the past.


Marsh Owl #1

Marsh Owl #2
Marsh Owl #3

As I said Marsh Owls are by far the most common but there is a chance of seeing other birds. For example, Spotted Thick-knees are extremely common and love to sit on the roads at night as well as the full range of common lapwings, Crowned, African Wattled and Blacksmith Lapwings.


Spotted Thick-knee

African Wattled Lapwing

Crowned Lapwing

And of course we sometimes find roosting birds who have found a safe, warm dry spot to curl up and spend the night.


Immature Black-headed Heron roosting on one of the dead Eucalyptes trees.

Roosting African Black Duck

Northern Black Korhaan (White-quilled Korhaan)

We even found a young Black-backed Jackal who was enjoying the warmth of the tar road and we almost had to push him out of the way before he finally moved. The jackals are quite a menace on the reserve unfortunately. Without any natural predators, their population has exploded and not many antelope young make it to adulthood because of predation by the jackals.

Black-backed Jackal

Oh and I almost forgot to show the photographs of the nightjars we have seen..

Female Square-tailed (Mozambique) Nightjar - note the buffy outer tail feather 

Male Rufous-cheeked Nightjar

Unfortunately that's all for this outing, the Fiery-necked Nightjar and Spotted Eagle Owl proved too elusive to photograph but hopefully I will get some good photos soon. Although, with winter (brrr) coming, the nightjars and owls will soon move out of the reserve for warmer climates and the Lazy Birder will prefer a warm house to a cold car anyday!

Have a good one!!

For a chance to go on a owl night drive in the reserve, contact Nicky Ras (clscreen@mweb.co.za) of the Pretoria Region of the SA National Parks Honorary Rangers for more information.