Rufousnaped Lark

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Sunday, December 19, 2010

Week 51 - Marievale Bird Sanctuary

Hadeda Ibis

When my alarm went off at 4am on Saturday it felt as if I had been hit by a bus sometime during the night. Unfortunately I could not roll over and go back to sleep as my birding bud JP Le Roux was on his way to fetch me to go birding at Marievale. It was to be his first visit to this wetland reserve on the Blesbok Spruit (stream) in the south of Johannesburg and I could not even afford to press the snooze button!

We arrived at Marievale to find that the recent rains which had caused havoc to the roads in Pretoria had created a bird paradise by flooding the grasslands surrounding the spruit (including the access roads). Our main target birds were Slaty Egret, Baillons Crake and Black-winged Pratincole of which we only got one, the Baillons Crake which was spotted sauntering across the flooded road about 5m in front of us....I was too slow for a photo!

Herons on the causeway road
African Rail were calling everywhere and we had numerous good views of them as they moved across the causeway road in front of us.

African Rail
  At the otter hide we found the usual common species including Red-knobbed Coot, Common Moorhen, Reed Cormorant, Squacco Heron, Black Heron and Whiskered Terns. We even saw a family of otters move cautiously onto the road before turning and running back into the reeds. Unfortunately they were a bit far off to identify.

Red-knobbed Coot

Reed Cormorant

Squacco Heron
Squacco Herons were probably the most common heron on the day with Black Herons following a close second. We had good views of a Little Bittern flying over some open water.

Black Heron
  There were also a few Cattle Egrets around in breeding plumage which I think is quite stunning for a supposedley plain white bird. They get this browny wash over the breast and crown and the lores become a pinkish to purplish colour with a darker orange bill..

Cattle Egret in breeding plumage

Malachite Kingfishers were taking advantage of the flooded roads and we found quite a few sitting on reeds watching for minnows in the shallow water. These are stunning little birds which you can never grow tired of seeing.

Malachite Kingfisher

Raptors were few and far between, we only saw a few Black-shouldered Kites and a female ring-tailed Harrier which did not stick around for a proper ID. Amur Flacons were hunting over the area in a large flock.

Sub-adult Black-shouldered Kite (I love the "eyelashes")

Adult Black-shouldered Kite with prey

In the flooded grassland were numerous weavers, bishops and widows including Red-shouldered Widow (which is fairly rare for Gauteng) and a few Common Waxbills. A special sighting was of a couple of pairs of Orangebreasted Waxbills amongst the seedeaters.

Orange-breasted Waxbills

On the way back to the main gate we stopped at the last hide (Hadeda Hide?) which was very quiet as far as birds were concerned. There were two photographers there with huge 600mm lenses and no subjects to photograph. After a while we got photos of a Southern Masked Weaver and a Lesser Swamp Warbler crossing the reeds in front of us !

Lesser Swamp Warbler

Southern Masked Weaver

We had seen a few Mongooses in the reserve during the day, Slender, Yellow and at the last hide there had been a Water Mongoose crossing right in front of the hide but he took off as I moved to show the others occupants. So not a bad day for mammals either.

Waders numbers were low compared to previous visits, probably due to the higher water levels. We saw Wood Sandpipers (very common), Ruff, Marsh and Curlew Sandpipers. African Snipe were common. To round off a great days birding we got stuck in some really sticky mud and had to be extracted by a kindly farmer with his tractor. I added some Avocet to the days list while JP went off to fetch the cavalry!

Wood Sandpiper
With my annual leave started, I will be heading off to the coast on Hoiliday in a few days so watch this space for some more exciting South African birds early in the new year. Happy Holidays!!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Week 50 (Part 2) - Mkhombo Dam Again

After a successful twitch to Pongola on Friday it was back to Mkhombo again on Sunday to show JP Le Roux some of the specials there. We left Pretoria at 04h30 in a steady drizzle and drove the whole distance without it stopping once. At Mkhombo itself the rain came down even harder and opening the car windows was reminiscent of opening the shower door from the outside with the water on full. Still in these not so pleasant conditions we managed to get three of the four specials, the Spotted Crake and Pectoral Sandpiper were lifers for JP and I got the Ruddy Turnstone as a regional lifer.

Nice weather for Ducks (Hottentot Teals)

African Snipe were more common than last week

There were also more Common Sandpipers around.

Another attempt at the Spotted Crake - Too far off!!

Purple Swamphen - absent last week extremely common this week!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Week 50 - Pongola Nature Reserve (Golden Pipit Twitch)

Well I did it! I never thought I had it in me to travel 1300km for 13.5hrs to see just one special bird, but what a bird!! This Golden Pipit has to be the most beautiful bird I have seen to date, it is simply stunnning!

Kevin Ravno of Natural World and I left Pretoria at 02h45 and travelled the 650km via Standerton, Vryheid and Louwsburg to arrive in Pongola at about 09h40. The weather was good with only a few clouds about. When we arrived on site a small group of twitchers had already gathered and they quickly put us onto the bird which was flitting between a few favoured perches. The sun was already quite high however and he was staying in the shade most of the time. After about 2hrs on site I managed the following pictures:-

Unfortunately the Pipit was not allowing a close approach and my 400mm lens was a bit short to capture the birds behaviour fully. For some really great shots of his display behaviour and to get a truly great impression of this bird see the photos taken by Johann and Lizet Grobbelaar.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Week 49 - Mkhombo Dam

Mkhombo Shoreline
This last weekend I eventually got out to Mkhombo Dam after some procrastinating and what a surprise! The Dam was very full with a lot of small inlets with some reeds and flooded vegetation creating some perfect habitat for all kinds of birds. I was after the 4 specials that had been found by some pioneer birders. Pygmy Goose, Ruddy Turnstone, Pectoral Sandpiper and Spotted Crake. I was particularly interested in the Pygmy Goose of which I still needed a photo but was very sceptical about actually seeing the Spotted Crake ( I had already taken great photos of the Roodekoppies Dam Pectoral Sandpiper and Ruddy Turnstone the previous year).

African Jacanas were probably the most common birds and were seen foraging everywhere.

African Jacana foraging in the shore grass

African Jacana foraging in the shallows

 I quickly headed down to the area where the specials had been seen and after a short while picked up the female Pectoral which was shortly joined by the male.

Pectoral Sandpipers (Male left, Female right)

Pectoral Sandpipers are supposed to be American migrants so how is it that we seem to end up with a few visitors each Shorebirds book says that some birds get blown across to Europe and it is these birds that end up migrating to Southern Africa.

The area was really great for photography as you could get close with the vehicle without disturbing the birds and with so many subjects it was just heaven......

Black-winged Stilt

Female Southern Pochard


White-faced Ducks

Whiskered Tern

Fulvous Ducks
 I was also trying out my new flash extender which gave some very good results, I still need a lot of practice but one shot I was very happy with was this Curlew Sandpiper stretching its wings..

Curlew Sandpiper
 While all this was going on another birder stopped and asked me if I had seen the Pectoral Sandpipers yet. I had and explained where to find them, "have you seen the Pygmy Goose" I asked....He gives me this odd look, points over my left shoulder and there sure as eggs is an adult male Pygmy Goose not 5 meters from the other birds I was photographing. Talk about embarrassing!!

Adult Male Pygmy Goose

This is a really impressive little bird which I had only seen on one other occasion. When he took flight I could see just how small he is..

I was heading back towards the entrance when I decided to try once more for some decent photos of the Pectorals. As I got closer to the site, the driver (Niall Perrins) of another bakkie signaled for me to stop and pointed to the sedges next to the path and there he/she was, an adult Spotted Crake. Viewing the bird was quite difficult as it constantly moved in thick vegetation and only appeared in small gaps now and again. I finally got a few shots after about 45 minutes of patiently waiting for him to co-operate. Lifer number 670 and photo lifer number 571...

Spotted Crake

Well that rounded off a great days birding and I headed off for home after that, completely forgetting about the 4th special...the Ruddy Turnstone.

After a day like that birding at home is going to be an anti-climax!!

Hmmmmmm......where to next, the Grey Wagtail at Debengeni in Limpopo or shall I attempt the Golden Pipit at Pongola Nature reserve in KwaZulu Natal.....decisions this space.