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.
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.
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.
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.
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 zenith..at least he managed two lifers for the day which surprised me as we had seen some really good birds.
Have a lekker one! TLB