Rufousnaped Lark

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Friday, December 7, 2012

The Quick Twitch

Well, what can I say? On Thursday 6th I braved the protest marchers and potential traffic delays to go and view the latest rarity to South Africa. A Collared Flycatcher was seen by a local birder and ringer, Malcolm Wilson, in his Robindale garden in Randburg Gauteng and he quickly put the news out for all the twitchers come and see. Some European birders are probably wondering what all the fuss is all about but this was only the 9th recorded sighting of this species in South Africa. It was first sighted on Tuesday 4th and by Thursday an estimated 400 birders had been through his garden and surrounding suburb to see and photograph the bird.

I left home at 15h30 and I reached the turnoff on the highway at the same time that I reached the back end of the protest march and with a bit of detours arrived at the house at around 16h16. Luckily when I got there, there were only a few birders and I could move around and photograph to my hearts content. The bird kept his distance and left me wishing I had a longer lens again!! Any sponsors out there wanting to get rid of a 400mm f2.8 Canon lens with a converter or two??

Anyway here of the results of my attempts. Not very good I'm afraid as the lighting was poor, I didn't take my tri-pod (silly me) and the distance was too great...

Collared Flycatcher (6)

I am also seriously thinking of changing my blog name from The Lazy Birder to The Busy Birder because I always have to be somewhere else when I have a gap to go birding! Rush, rush, rush....

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Amsterdam Rd and Hoogland Health Hydro

I popped out for a quick birding trip the other day to Amsterdam Rd to see if the Cuckoofinches and Melodius Larks were about but I dipped on both of them. All I got was a Capped Wheatear with a juvenile and some distant Clapper Larks and the usual Rufousnaped Larks and Whitewinged Korhaans.

Adult Capped Wheatear

Juvenile Capped Wheatear

There was a Micro-light aircraft practising its landing procedures which probably contributed to the lack of birds as well as some off-road bikers that were tearing around the place making a racket! I decided to go through to Hoogland Health Hydro to see what was about here and was pleasantly surprised with a Yellow-throated Petronia pair that were feeding their chicks at the nest in a tree stump right next to the road. The nest was in a tree next to a slope so I could get up high and photograph level with their position.. This is the first time I have seen this species so close to home!

Yellow-throated Petronia (3)
Not wanting to disturb the Petronias too much I left them after a few minutes and headed down to reception to announce my presence. Down at reception I found a very obliging Kurrichane Thrush who sat still while I got a few photos of him.

Kurrichane Thrush (2)

Another interesting sighting for this area was a Short-toed Rock-thrush which is only supposed to be a winter visitor to this site?

Short-toed Rock-thrush

After asking for permission, I took a drive to the air-field which has a picnic site nearby. This was a great spot for some good birds, I saw Lesser Honeyguide, Bru-bru, Violet-backed Starling, Red-throated Wryneck, Paradise Flycatcher, Black Cuckooshrike, Black-backed Puffback, Klaas' Cuckoo and SA Cliff Swallows. On the drive up there I heard Red-wing Francolins calling higher up and spotted a Black-breasted Snake-eagle circling overhead. I could not get close enough for decent photos of any of these species however.

Finally for the possible reptile fans out there who may find this site, I photographed two interesting fellows who I have tentatively identified as a Transvaal Girdled Lizard and a Spotted Gecko but if you know better then let me know the correct names, thanks!

Transvaal Girdled Lizard?

Spotted Gecko?

That's all I have time for now but I had a great trip to Mkhombo Dam again last weekend which I will be posting shortly so keep an eye out for it.


Saturday, November 10, 2012

Spring Time Birding in Gauteng

I can't believe that this year has flown past so quickly and so much has happened this year. It is definately going to be a year to remember. Well so far the Spring is has arrived and brought with it lots of rain and lots of migrants that have arrived earlier than usual. It all started when the Greater Striped Swallows arrived almost a 10 days earlier than they have for at least the last 5 years, then the Red-chested Cuckoo was heard calling on the 17th October whereas we normally only hear them around the 30th and the Paradise Flycatchers arrived on the 21st October, much earlier than the first week of November. I wonder what these signs mean....they can only mean good things! Maybe they know the Mayan calender and want to enjoy their last African summer......tee hee hee....

Other interesting sightings in the garden since the beginning of spring were our first Olive Pigeon, a (European) Marsh Warbler which was sighted having a dip in the bird bath on the 14th, a Wattled Starling on the 17th and a Rose-ringed Parakeet flying overhead. The Bronze Mannikins have become regular visitors now and we see them almost everyday which is still exciting for me to sit and watch them. I suppose the excitement of seeing them will wear off eventually as this tends to happen when birds become regulars to the garden. I can't even imagine that when we first moved in here 18 years ago we didn't have Karoo Thrush or Cape Robin in the garden (which was pretty bleak). Now as many as 5 Thrushes at a time display on the lawn and up the paths around the house dragging their wings and fanning their tails to attract the ladies. They are really comical when they do this and extremely bold. Our garden list has now grown to a cool 108 species in the last 18 years with 45 species being seen for the month of October.... Although this total also includes birds flying overhead there are 37 species which regularly visit our garden itself.

Anyway, I have really been battling with my camera to get nice crisp images and after much experimentation have re-calibrated the auto-focus using a calibration chart set at 45 degrees to the camera. It is now set to minus 7 and I am much happier with the result. For more details on how to set your own autofocus see Bill Majoros' website listed under My Favourite Websites..( He has an excellent photographic instruction manual (that you can read for free) which has very detailed information on just about everything to do with bird photography and he is a nice (and patient) guy who is happy to explain the technical stuff if you ask him!

So, here are some garden bird images after the auto focus calibration. Please feel free to comment to if you feel that there is a difference in the image sharpness (or not). I have done some re-sizing of the images for quicker uploads and one unsharp mask after the resize, on the parrot and hornbill shots I did adjust the shadows and highlights a bit but then again these were more record shots of special birds in the garden. We were on our way out when the hornbill arrived so had the wife pressing me to hurry up with that photo. I don't think it is that bad under the circumstances??

Red-faced Mousebird

Black-throated Canary

Sorry for this one but when you are eager to try out the new auto focus setting, any birdy subject will do!! But, hey, they have their own characters and being birds I enjoy them just as much as the others. Using Sir David Attenboroughs ranking formula on the BBC program Life of Birds (based on the bib size), this must be at least a lieutenant? A rather cheeky one as he was later seen chasing off a Colonel...

House Sparrow

Some more Glossy Starling regular visitors have probably seen enough of them on my blog. But aren't they pretty??

Tried a panoramic crop here..

And a Portrait type shot...

Cape Glossy Starling (3)

Oh and some time in October we heard a strange call from the front garden. I initially thought that the neighbour must have got a new parrot but then realised after half the day had gone by that the call was coming from the Karee tree right outside our lounge window...on closer inspection it turned out to be a Senegal Parrot. Not an indigenous bird in our area but a very popular cage bird so someone had lost a good R900 worth of exotic parrot.

Senegal Parrot

Finally, the Hornbill photo......competition time, if you can sex the bird you win bragging rights for a month. No peeking in the books now, this should be an easy one!

Red-billed Hornbill

I really hope I will be getting out soon to bring you more exciting bird photos but with a new job and a reputation to uphold I can't promise anything.


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Giants Castle - Drakensberg

Giants Castle Vulture Hide

What a luck, my old birding bud Phil Penlington phones out of the blue with a offer to go with to the vulture hide at Giants Castle in the Drakensberg mountains of Kwa-Zulu Natal. The waiting list for this hide is roughly 18 months so this was an offer I couldn't pass up. We would be joined by another friend of Phils, Neil Cillie who arrived armed with a monster 600mm lens that made my 400mm look like a "dinky" toy! After my initial decision to use my wifes Suzuki to save on petrol, we rather decided to take the bird mobile with its go anywhere capabilities so that we didnt have to wait for the 08:00 Parks Board lift to take us up to the hide (I'm glad we did after realising we would have had to walk back to camp in the afternoon).

We set off on Sunday morning after I had to work on Saturday to be able to take two days ironic is an extra day and you can take two of your own leave days. Humph nothing comes for free these days! The drive was undramatic with no mishaps along the way. Weather was perfect and we expected freezing weather with possible snow falls at Giants Castle so clothing took up a lot of space in the car. We arrived at Giants Castle at around 15:00 and took a drive up to the hide after seeing that it had been vacated by the previous birders. The road up is fairly rough and steep, I wouldn't like to tackle this in wet or snow conditions and I dont think the Suzuki SX4 would have made it up with the three of us and all our baggage. After a quick look around we decided to go down to reception to check in, luckily we did because we arrived just in time to catch the reception staff packing up to go home....The chalets are really neat and clean and some have magnificent views of the mountains.

View from Chalet 39

Monday morning we were up early, dressed in at least 3 layers of clothing (temperature was 2 degrees) and set off to the hide at 06:00 in the dark, arriving on top at the hide at 06:30 just as the sky was starting to lighten. We threw out the complimentary bones along with lumps of bone meal we had brought with and settled down in the hide for the birds to arrive. The hide faces roughly WSW and the sun paints the mountains gradually until the light reaches the ledge in front of the hide at around 08:00.

The view from the hide

Neil (left) and Phil all set up waiting for the birds

We didn't have to wait long for the birds as the first Bearded Vulture glided past at around 06:40. It was a dark headed juvenile bird which I didn't even attempt to photograph as the light was still bad at that time. The ground ahead was full of smaller birds that were feeding on the bone meal and crows and ravens that were feeding on the cow carcass and fresh bones we had put out. We were to learn that the ravens are actually a pest. They, and the jackals, carried off a few bones and actually harass the raptors and vultures that come in for a meal. We observed White-necked Ravens, Cape Crows, Red-winged Starlings, Cape Buntings, Familiar Chats, Cape Rock-thrush, Yellow Bishops and Buff-streaked Chats all before 08:00. Trying to photograph them in the shadow proved difficult however. The Bearded Vultures made several fly pasts during this time which kept us busy trying to get our settings right and get the birds in focus.

Adult Bearded Vulture - Gypaetus Barbatus

Later as the light strengthened and came closer and closer to the hide, it became difficult to decide where to focus. Vultures were passing overhead, chats were posing on the rocks, even a Gurneys Sugarbird put in an appearance for a few minutes..

Juvenile Bearded Vulture

Adult Bearded Vulture

We were hoping for one of the vultures to land but the ravens harrass them whenever they flew too close. Eventually at around 10:00 an adult bird landed on the furthest ledge from the hide. Everyone immediately strated firing away so that it sounded something like a movie firefight in the hide. All too quickly it was over and the bird took off again.

Adult Bearded Vulture

Adult Bearded Vulture

Juvenile Bearded Vulture fly past

Juvenile Bearded Vulture

Eventually we had so many opportunities for Bearded Vultures in flight we could practice with light settings and even tried to compose photos of the birds with the mountains in the background. But, as I found out the hard way, take as many photos as possible....those "good" shots dont look so good when you download them onto the computer screen so keep trying!!

In between taking shots of the vultures we got some close-up shots of the smaller passerines..

Male Cape Rock-thrush

Female Buff-streaked Chat

Male Buff-streaked Chat

Familiar Chat

Female Red-winged Starling

Juvenile Male (left) and female Red-winged Starlings

Cape Bunting

Male Gurneys Sugarbird

Cape Crow

White-necked Raven

Phil had said that the last time he was there he saw several Jackal Buzzard and hardly any Bearded Vultures, plus it was raining. We had the opposite conditions, sunny with lots of Bearded Vultures and only one Jackal Buzzard visited in the two days we were there..

Jackal Buzzard

Later in the day, after lunch, we got our first Cape Vultures....they preferred to glide past checking out the fare with only one adult and one juvenile actually landing. We noticed that the Bearded Vultures seemed to come closer when the Cape Vultures were on the ground.

Adult Cape Vulture

Cape Vulture landing

Cape Vulture

Once the Vultures were on the ground the Ravens began to pester them and even made contact as they dive-bombed them. Being intelligent birds they used one bird to distract the vulture while another flew off and hit them from behind. The vultures didn't appreciate this attention and took off again after a short while....

Cape Vulture eyeing the White-necked Ravens 

Cape Vulture being dive-bombed by White-necked Raven (1)

Cape Vulture being dive-bombed by White-necked Raven (2)

All too soon the first day was over, the sun had traversed around to shine almost in our faces and chances of good photos had dwindled accordingly. On the way back to the camp Neil alerted us to some Oribi (which are very rare antelope) on the hillside near the hide. We managed to get some decent photos before they ran off over the ridge.


As we arrived on the outskirts of the camp we spotted a pair of Red-necked Spurfowl which froze on the road verge, allowing us a chance to get some record shots (lifer photos for me).

Red-necked Spurfowl

Day two brought no new species but allowed us more opportunities to practice our photography skills and get more flight shots of the Bearded and Cape Vultures. As Murphy would have it the Hide was swarming with Vultures on the ground close to the hide as we were making our way home.....I really wouldn't recommend that other birders go to the hide, it is really not worth the effort (and it will make it more available to us if you don't ;-))