Rufousnaped Lark

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Thursday, August 20, 2020

Wilge River Valley - 16/08/2020

Last Sunday, my son Mike and I headed off down the Wilge River valley to see if we could get him a few lifers for his list and it turned out to be a great day for lifers indeed. Arriving just after sunrise, we drove really slowly with lots of stops and got some really cool birds. LBJ's abounded and we started with Southern Masked Weavers, Red Bishop in their winter dress, Tawny-flanked Prinia calling from the long grass next to the roadside and a Black-headed Oriole calling from the tall Eucalyptus trees. A Cardinal Woodpecker called and we managed to see him moving around the small branches on the top of a dry tree.

Cardinal Woodpecker Male

We heard and saw several White-throated Robin-chats as we idled down the road but didn't manage to photograph one unfortunately. Southern Black Flycatchers called to each other from the tree tops and we heard Kurrichane Thrush calling a few times but they remained hidden. Brown Crowned Tchagra was seen along with Familiar Chat and three Natal Spurfowl strolled nonchalantly down the middle of the dirt road but took off running and clacking indignantly into the bush as we approached too closely. Shortly after this a lone Lanner Falcon cruised along the valley, hugging the cliff face as it went.

Lanner Falcon

As the sun came over the cliffs and started warming the valley, the birds came alive and started moving around looking for breakfast. Some of the notables were a calling (drumming) Bearded Woodpecker which we saw nicely on the way back later that afternoon. This turned out to be a Gauteng lifer for me.. A small raptor flew into the trees higher up the slope and began to call, identifying itself as an African Goshawk, also a Gauteng special. We again saw the same bird or perhaps another individual further down the valley but it was rather skittish and didn't stick around for a photo shoot. A Puffback was displaying and puffing his back feathers out to look like the snowball he is named after in Afrikaans. This was something new for Mike and he was enthralled to see the little round white feather ball dancing through the trees. By the time I got the camera onto him, his feathers had relaxed...a bit disappointing I thought.

Black-backed Puffback

A herd of cattle were lying along the wide, flat river bank scattered with debris from the floods last Summer. Amongst the broken branches and dead reed clumps were numerous small birds, including Blue Waxbill, Neddicky, Southern Masked Weaver, Red Bishop and another lifer for Gauteng, African Firefinch. While watching them, I heard a familiar call behind us and turned to find a small flock of White-crested Helmetshrike, another Gauteng lifer for me.

As the valley started to flatten out into the floodplain we got a large flock of White-winged Widowbirds in non-breeding plumage, Crowned and Wattled Lapwing, White-fronted Bee-eater, Bronze Mannikin, African Palm Swift, Black Crake and Swainsons Francolin. Eventually we got to Qudesh, a camp and coffe shop on the river, which make some amazing milkshakes. Both Mike and I had Caramel flavoured milkshakes which, according to our host, is her specialty, followed by a toasted sandwich. Suitably satiated we headed down to the river with the hopes of a possible Finfoot or the Mountain Wagtail which had been seen a few days before our visit but we saw neither unfortunately. A Fork-tailed Drongo however decided to pose for a photo in the camp site which had two sites occupied.

Fork-tailed Drongo

As we left Qudesh and turned onto the main road, Mike called "Raptor" and on the line was sitting another Gauteng lifer for us in the form of a Lizard Buzzard which is not a common species in the area by any means.

Lizard Buzzard

By this time it was after 12 and we started back up the valley and home. As mentioned earlier we got good views of the Bearded Woodpecker but the light was too bright to attempt photos. When we reached the tar road again we turned North and headed for Renosterkop in the hopes of finding some more lifers for Mike. The wind was really blowing when we reached the top so most birds were taking cover and we only managed a few elusive grass warblers, good views of sheltering Wailing Cisticolas and some Nicholsons Pipits that I tried to turn into Rock Pipits but could not! 

With the total for the day on 73 species we headed for home. Mike was asleep by the time we reached the highway as it was an early start for he who normally only rises when the sun is close to its least he managed two lifers for the day which surprised me as we had seen some really good birds.

Have a lekker one! TLB

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Home Birding and mammal watching

Hello Campers,

Well I wish we could get out and do some serious camping and birding for a change. I thought that the lockdown would never last this long and I am beginning to realise what cabin fever is all about. It is not all gloom however as working from home, I was able to rethink my feeders and put some up right in front of my study window where I get to watch the birds all day. I have put up some suet cakes, seed and fruit feeders. Attracting ,mainly seed-eaters in the form of Cape Sparrow, Grey-headed Sparrows, Red-eyed, Cape Turtle and Laughing doves, Red-headed Finch as well as Dark- capped Bulbul, Cape Glossy Starling, Crested and Black-collared Barbet. Other birds seen were Black-headed Oriole, which is an extremely rare visitor to the garden, Cardinal Woodpecker, Speckled and Red-faced Mousebird, African Hoopoe, Grey Hornbill, Black-backed Puffback and Tawny-flanked Prinia.

The feeders also produced some interesting results as the Lesser Bushbabies from the neighbourhood came in to eat the apples I put out for the birds. Now we see them regularly every evening and I have created their own feeding station as I can't imagine that they get enough te eat in an urban environment. Although they do eat acacia tree gum as a main source of food (we have a large Acacia karroo which is their favourite gum type I believe) , along with insects and some fruit.

Lesser Bushbaby - Nagapie

Lesser Bushbaby - Nagapie

I also set up a feeding stump for practicing my photography but it has one small doesn't get much sunlight, with only small patches shining through the trees until after 12:30 when it is in full sun, so you have to be ready and quick when it happens. However, I think that this will improve as the sun moves towards the summer trajectory.. It is about 12m from our porch with the background another 7m beyond so that the background comes out blurred. Here are two from the weekend..

Cape Robin-chat

Southern Red Bishop

I have also played around with my camera settings, from AV - aperture priority I moved it to TV - shutter priority with much better results I feel. I set the speed to 1/1000 and auto ISO and then point and shoot. It definitely makes a difference with a higher percentage of shots coming out sharper. Here is one taken with this setting in the late afternoon light.

Tawny-flanked Prinia

Until next time!

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'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..

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!!