Rufousnaped Lark

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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Week 36 - Port Elizabeth (Eastern Cape)

Cape Gull which are common on the coast

The beginning of September saw me travelling to Port Elizabeth (PE) in the Eastern Cape Province to represent my province in the masters squash tournament. With the games being spread out over 5 days and with excellent weather conditions it presented a perfect opportunity to do a bit of birding in my spare time. I do not know the birding spots around PE that well and spent my time birding around the grounds of the resort where I stayed, along the coast and at the Cape Recife Nature Reserve. I remember doing some good birding at Settlers Park many years ago, seeing a Peregrine Falcon nesting on a cliff face at the entrance and getting my first Knysna Lourie there but I did not get time to visit the park on this occasion.

The resort I stayed at was called The Willows and is situated on the sea about 15km from the main beachfront on the Skoenmakerskop road. They have chalets here and a camping area at very reasonable prices. Birding consisted of sea birds and coastal scrub birds.

The coast line is very rocky with very few patches of sand. At the resort I found Cape Gulls, Cape Cormorants, Pied and Giant Kingfishers, Caspian Tern, Cape Wagtails and Karoo Prinia in the scrub along the shoreline. Around the resort gardens I saw Common and Red-winged Starlings, Cape Canary, Common Fiscal and Fiscal Flycatcher, Brown-throated Martin, Cape Bulbul, Bokmakierie and Bar-throated Apalis amongst others.

Common Starling

Speckled Pigeon feeling the effects of an early spring season

Cape Wagtail gathering nesting material on the beach

Pied Kingfisher watching the rock pools for supper

Giant Kingfisher

Karoo Prinia in the coastal scrub

Caspian Tern caught in the act of diving for fish

For peaceful undisturbed birding I love to go to Cape Recife to sit at the tern roost near the lighthouse with camera ready and wait for the tide to push the terns in towards me. An old buddy taught me this trick and if you have a few hours to spend it is well worth doing. You can buy a permit for the reserve at the Pine Lodge reception which is just before the entrance to the reserve. The fees are minimal and the permit is valid for a couple of days. The tern roost often turns up specials like Sooty Tern or Bridled Tern and is a good place to see Roseate Terns. I was lucky (I think) to find a small flock of Damara Terns on the day of my visit.

Cape Recife Lighthouse

Sandwich Tern

Damara Terns coming in to roost

Roseate Tern (left) and Common Tern (right)

Roseate Tern

African Black Oystercatchers are common here and can be easily approached for a photo.

African Black Oystercatchers

Visitors to Cape Recife should be alert when birding here as there have been some incidents of theft in the past. The guard at the gate however assured me that patrols had been increased and incidents had not been reported for a while now.

As usual trips like this flash by in a wink and before I knew it I was back at my desk working as if it had all just been a dream.........

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Week 30 - Rietvlei Dam Centurion

After a busy squash season, I finally have some time to catch up with some blogging!!

What could be better than a day off work to take a drive through the Rietvlei Dam Nature Reserve just south of Pretoria. Nothing to do except bird, no time restraints, no deadlines and no one to bother me!! Rietvlei was still in the grips of winter and patches of frost covered the ground especially near the water. Skies were clear and the water was a flat and glassy as a mill pond. I first stopped at the hide at Coots corner but it was still too cold for the birds with nothing much around. Rietvlei is 3600 hectares so there was lots of ground to cover and plenty other hides to check. Being a grassland biome, the little brown jobs are all over the place with the Cape Longclaw being the most often encountered and fairly open to a bit of photography.

Cape Longclaw
  Winter is a good time to practice your skill at identifying the numerous non-breeding euplectes species in the reserve with Long-tailed, Red-collared and White-winged Widows, Red and Yellow-crowned Bishops and Masked Weavers  being present in large numbers. Rietvlei is also good for pipits with African, Plain-backed and Long-billed Pipits present in the reserve.

Non-breeding Long-tailed Widow

By the time I reached the picnic area, the air had warmed up a bit and the birds had started to come to life. Here some of the birds I located were Spurwing Goose, Egyptian Goose, Levaillants Cisticola, Pied and Malachite Kingfisher, Lesser Swamp Warbler, Cape Robin-chat, Arrow-marked Babblers, Fiscal Flycaycher, Common Fiscal and African Stonechats which are very common in the reserve.

Arrow-marked Babblers

Egyptian Goose

From the picnic hide I travelled the vlei route to the fountain hide which was pretty quiet as it always is in winter. Ostrich are common and found along most of the roads in the reserve.

Male Ostrich

Waterbuck seen along the vlei route

By far the most productive hide photography wise is the fairly new Island hide which is located near an island which contains a heronry. The young birds tend to use the dead tree perches around the hide for preening and taking a rest after the first flight from the island. Terns and ducks often come close for a quick pic as well.

Immature Little Grebe

Immature White-breasted Cormorant

Young Reed Cormorants

African Darter

Yellow-billed Duck

Another feature of this reserve in winter are huge floats of Red-knobbed Coots which swim about feeding. While I was watching a float drift by they suddenly took fright and ran off across the water. The reason being a large Fish Eagle which made an unsuccessful attempt to grab one off the water. Perhaps the chaos of all these birds splashing and flapping across the water was enough to confuse his aim and cause the miss? He later took a fish off the surface of the water...

Red-knobbed Coots in panic mode

African Fish-eagle with fish

I must have spent over 2 hrs in the island hide, attempting, unsuccessfully to photograph birds in flight. So all-in-all a very relaxing day out of the office!!