Rufousnaped Lark

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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Week 11 - Marievale Bird Sanctuary

I decided to head out to Marievale in the hopes that I could pick up a few waders before they headed back to their Eurasian Summer. It had not been raining for quite a few days so I figured the water levels would be lower than my previous visit last year. Normally I travel via Delmas in the early morning in the hope that I will see a Grass Owl on the way. This time however I decided to rely on the GPS to take me through Springs/Nigel which it did almost flawlessly, the only mistake was trying to get me to go down a farm road which was blockaded by a sturdy gate and large padlock...luckily I knew the road from here. After travelling a full 106km from my house I arrived at the gate at 06:11 on the dot!!

At the first hide from the visitors centre I came across some Reed Cormorants perched on the metal poles prtruding from the water, some of which were just waking up by the looks of it!

Reed Cormorant

There was not much going on but after sitting for a while some warblers moved past the hide. Amongst them were Lesser Swamp Warbler, African Reed Warbler and a couple of European Sedge Warblers. Next was the otter hide which was occupied so I birded from th road using my vehicle as a hide. Birds spotted along here were White-throated Swallow and the spectacular sight of the huge Barn Swallow roost waking up.

White-throated Swallow

A small section of the vast Barn Swallow flock over the reeds
There didn't seem to be any waders around but after a bit of scanning I picked up a few Little Stints and amongst them a single Ringed Plover. Normally there are very large flocks of Ruff here but I only found a small handful.

Little Stints and Ringed Plover in foreground

On the way to the Picnic site I found a pair of Cape Shovellers, my first for the year. You can distinguish between male and female of this species by the eye colour, the male has a bright yellow eye while the females eye is dark in colour.

Cape Shovellers

The picnic sites hide was very quiet with only a few Coots and Moorhens floating around. Several Little Rush Warblers were calling from the thick reed beds. After passing through the gate on the causeway road several Amur Falcons flew over, I checked them carefully for any Western Redfooted Kestrels but with no luck. Amur males have white underwing coverts and Western Redfoots have dark grey underwing coverts.

Amur Falcon - Male

At the first hide from the gate there were some breeding Greater Striped Swallows using the hide as a safe and dry location for their nest. They kept flying in and out while we were sitting there and using a pole right in front of the hide as a perch fro serenading and rest.

Greater Striped Swallow

African Darters use the poles to the west of this hide for drying out and warming up and some Whiskered and White-winged Black Terns were using the hide as a wind block while they foraged for food. Close fly-pasts allowed some attempts at in-flight photography.

African Darter

Immature Whiskered Tern

Just before the Bus Stop hide the grasslands were still flooded and teeming with Wood Sandpipers and camera shy African Snipe, Euplectes seedeaters were numerous along this part of the causeway. Red and Yellow-crowned Bishops, Long-tailed, Red-Collared and Fan-tailed Widowbirds, Southern Masked Weavers, Common and Orange-breasted Waxbills and Pin-tailed Whydahs were amongst those identified. A lone African Marsh Harrier hunted over the Reeds.

Wood Sandpiper

At the bridge past the Bus Stop hide I normally like to cruise up quietly to see what birds are about in the reeds but there were two birders on foot that had probably chased all away. I nonetheless found an immature Malachite Kingfisher that allowed a close approach for a photo or forty....a lot of people confuse these with the Half-collared Kingfisher which rather prefer wooded stream with fast flowing water.

Immature Malachite Kingfisher (2)

After the bridge I carried on to the fence at the mine dumps and then turned to my left to check out the dams at the bottom of the reserve. African Stonechats always hang around here and after several years of battling to get photos of these guys I always try for a shot. They are such stunning little birds with great colours, I even got a photo of the female (don't laugh, we all have our photographic bogey birds).

Male Stonechat

Female Stonechat

While searching the ponds for any interesting birds I spotted a Cape Clawless Otter hunting in the opposite pond, seemingly oblivious to my presence. After a watching him for a while and getting some record photos, he disappeared behind an island.

Cape Clawless Otter (2)

A great ending to a great days birding, I found the waders I had been looking for and even got a lone immature Lesser Flamingo on the ponds below the guest huts for the year list.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Week 10 - Rietvlei Nature Reserve

I've been a bit slow with my blog lately, just because I haven't got a round toit. Maybe I should add this to my next gift list!!

I snuck off early one morning for a couple of hours at Rietvlei Nature Reserve just to get out. Tommy met me at the gates and we set with cameras and bins in hand for some birding action.

At first it was a bit quiet as the air was a bit nippy and the birds obviously slept in. At one point on the track the Cisticolas were calling everywhere...Zitting, Cloud and a Wing-snapping (Ayres) represented the aerial cisticolas and a Levaillants called from the grass.

Cloud Cisticola (confirmed)
   One of my favourite things about Rietvlei is the abundance of lbj's and this day didn't disappoint by turning up another dodgy looking immature pipit which showed some lovely colours and patterns. The outer tail feathers appeared buffy and the lower mandible was pinkish but I still need to confirm the id. I will update the post later when I know more!

Juvenile African Pipit (confirmed)
Another member of the wagtail/pipit family which are extremely common at Rietvlei are the Cape Longclaws which have a mewing call which sounds like a cat.

Cape Longclaw
  The Greater-striped Swallow chicks have fledged and were found around the reserve begging for their parents to feed them. These two were sitting on the road and would not move out of the way until they were fed so we had to wait and we took a few pics in the interim. Check the feet (looks like mine when I stand on the cold tiles) and the way the membrane over the mothers eye closes to protect it from an eager beak!

Down the hatch!

The final highlight of the day was a flock of White-fronted bee-eaters who didn't mind having us take their photo from close range. A jealous Ovambo Sparrowhawk decided that he wasn't going to allow this however and scattered them in all directions (I was too slow to get a photo of him however).

White-fronted Bee-eaters (4)

And thats it, another mornings birding over and a good list of 32 species before work. We heard several Quialfinch again but getting a photo is hard work.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Week 09 - Melodious Lark and Grey Wagtail hunt

I need to get another bed....the one I have is far too comfortable. Saturday 5 a.m.: The alarm goes off but I am really enjoying my sleep so I roll over and go back to sleep again, at 5:25 a.m. I realise that JP is coming to fetch me at 5:30. I jump out of bed and get to the front door just as he stops outside my gate. Luckily its summer so a pair of shorts, a tee-shirt, a cap to flatten my sticky-up hairstyle and a quick brush of the teeth is all I need before we are off to look for the Grey Wagtail at the W.S. Botanical Gardens mentioned in week 04 (1).

As the gates only open at 08:00 a.m. we stop off at Amsterdam Rd to get a look at the Melodious Larks before the model flying club members arrive. We drive off down the runway towards the west and listen for the larks. Cape Longclaw are calling as well as Zitting and Cloud Cisticola's and in the distance a Northern Black Korhaan calls into the dawn. Eventually we hear a Melodious calling and with some patience manage to locate it doing its aerial maneuvers on the other side of a huge ditch reminiscent of photos I have seen of the Grand Canyon in the USA. But we have it for our year lists and a long distance shot as a reminder.

Melodious Lark displaying (you've just got to believe me)

We then head off to look for the Cuckoo Finches that I had seen earlier in the year but with no luck as the micro-lite aircraft are doing circuits and bumps on the grass runways. Orange-river Francolins were calling in the distance but we could not get a view of them and African Quailfinch were seen flying overhead calling as they went. A pair of Egyptian Geese flew past in the morning light.

Egyptian Goose
Having found our target bird we headed off to look for the Wagtail. At the entrance to the Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens we heard and saw a Black Cuckooshrike before we had even got through the gates. The call is a trilling sound not unlike an insect chirring.

Black Cuckooshrike

The birds at the Botanical Gardens are fairly habituated and will allow a close approach. One particular bush along the main trail is popular with birds for sunbathing in the early morning sun. Especially the Mousebirds.

HELP !! (ha ha ha sorry, I couldn't resist the frivolous caption)

Red-faced Mousebird

Common Fiscal Male catching a few rays!

We searched all the regular hangouts for the Grey Wagtail but were unable to locate it. While searching for it we came across a few of these creepy crawlies, I found out it is a Koppie Foam Grasshopper!

Koppie Foam Grasshopper
I also found the resident African Black Ducks in their usual spot along the more secluded patches of the river that flows through the gardens.

African Black Ducks

Other wildlife around the gardens were these Twin Dotted Border butterflies which were quite common. I could not get a shot of one with its wings open unfortunately.

Twin Dotted Border (2)

After about 3 hours we called it a day and headed off home again without seeing the Wagtail. I was really hoping to get the Grey Wagtail for JP's SA life list but it preferred to remain hidden. Have a great week!!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Week 08 - Stock take, Northern Farms and Home

What with financial year end at work and a stock take to boot there was not much opportunity for a dedicated bird outing. I managed to get to Northern Farms for a few hours before collecting my repaired 50D and then heading off to work to check the stock take progress.

Northern Farms is owned and run by Johannesburg Water and is popular for horse riding, bird watching, mountain biking and hiking. Unfortunately the mountain bikers have overrun the place claiming that their revenue keeps the place alive. Giving them the right to harass the birders and making it generally difficult to take photos or get good views without being disturbed. Their idea of fun is to cycle past between you and the bird you are lining up for a photo and ask what you are photographing.....needless to say I got only 1 photo for the day!

Levaillants Cisticola

The whole purpose of going to Northern Farms was to see Yellow Wagtail which frequent the cattle enclosures in the summer. Unfortunately after much searching I failed to find one (I can't even blame the cyclists for that). I did however manage to pick up a few year birds including Great Crested Grebe, Orange-breasted Waxbill and Green-backed Heron. I still managed a reasonable list of 60 species in the few hours spent there.

After collecting my camera I set off to work and while waiting for the first stock lists to process, looked around for birds out of my office window. As Murphy would have it they wouldn't play the game, the usual Familiar Chats were absent, the swallows were missing and the Cape Wagtails were foraging in the far corner of the yard.So when you're desperate to photograph something, anything will do. The lock on the gate, the number plate on a car and eventually a Cape Wagtail..

Cape Wagtail on the cable drums in the yard

Cape Wagtail foraging in the parking lot!

Stray Cat on the lookout for careless Wagtails!

Monday morning arrived again and I just had to photograph a bird of sorts. Luckily our resident Red-eyed Dove was preening on the aerial and this had to suffice to check the camera out.

Red-eyed Dove

Tuesday the 1st was slower at work after the year end rush had abated so I left work early to find some more photographic opportunities at home. With my leaf suit on I headed out into the garden for some common garden birds.

Cape Sparrow Female

Common Fiscal (Shrike)

Karoo Thrush in full song

Finally a willing subject in the form of our resident Cape Robin-Chat decided to pose for some photos and these are the results. This is definately my favourite garden bird (he/she was duly rewarded with some juicy meal worms from my worm farm)!

Add caption

Cape Robin-chat (8)

Thats all I have this week. Next weekend its off to look for Melodius Larks and JP is coming through from Nelspruit to look for the Grey Wagtail. I think a trip to Rietvlei may be on the cards for Sunday (seeing as its my first weekend in two weeks!! Toodles!!