Archive for the ‘Birding’ Category

Back in July I took a family holiday in the Hluhluwe area. An earlier post on butterflying around Malala Lodge is here. We visited the iSimangaliso Wetland Park (It was until recently known as the St Liucia Wetland Park.). The Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site and “consists of thirteen contiguous protected areas with a total size of 234,566 hectares. The site is the largest estuarine system in Africa and includes the southernmost extension of coral reefs on the continent. The site contains a combination of on-going fluvial, marine and aeolian processes that have resulted in a variety of landforms and ecosystems. Features include wide submarine canyons, sandy beaches, forested dune cordon and a mosaic of wetlands, grasslands, forests, lakes and savanna. The variety of morphology as well as major flood and storm events contribute to ongoing evolutionary processes in the area. Natural phenomena include: shifts from low to hyper-saline states in the Park’s lakes; large numbers of nesting turtles on the beaches; the migration of whales, dolphins and whale-sharks off-shore; and huge numbers of waterfowl including large breeding colonies of pelicans, storks, herons and terns. The Park’s location between sub-tropical and tropical Africa as well as its coastal setting has resulted in exceptional biodiversity including some 521 bird species.” (Quoted from the UNESCO site here.)

In the morning we went on an estuary cruise which focuses on hippos and crocodiles as well as the larger birds. It was a very enjoyable trip and we saw plenty of crocodiles and hippos and quite a few birds – though nothing new for me.

Hippopotamus Hippopotamus amphibius

Nile Crocodile Crocodylus niloticus

Waterbuck Kobus ellipsiprymnus

White-faced Duck Dendrocygna viduata with a Grey Heron Ardea cinerea

Great views of a Goliath Heron Ardea goliath

Up close and personal with an African Fish Eagle Haliaeetus vocifer

After the cruise we spent some time around St Lucia village – I went for a short walk on the Gwalagwala trail. We saw a group of Vervet Monkeys Cercopithecus aethiops:

On the Gwalagwala walk I also saw a Woodward’s Batis Batis fratrum which was a new bird for my life list.

Later on in the village we had fantastic views of a large group of Banded Mongooses Mungos mungo, though they moved so quickly I did not get photographs. I did get a photo of a female Trumpeter Hornbill Bycanistes bucinator:

In the afternoon we drove into the park and saw more Waterbuck as well as Warthogs Phacochoerus africanus. I found another new bird, the Eastern Nicator Nicator gularis.


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Back in March we went camping at Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve near Swellendam. The reserve contains the most noteworthy example of indigenous forest in the southwestern Cape. It is home to a number of birds including the most westerly population of the Narina Trogon. See birding information on the Cape Birding Route website. We did not have great weather, however I did manage to see two new species: the beautiful Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher (Trochocercus cyanomelas)and the less beautiful but interesting Terrestrial Brownbul (Phyllastrephus terrestris).
There were a few butterflies about – Grootvadersbosch is home to a subspecies of the Forest King Emperor butterfly Charaxes xiphares occidentalis. It was a little late in the season however & I only had a very brief glimpse of a single specimen & no luck attracting them to baits of rotting fruit. I did see numerous specimens of the Rainforest Brown Cassionympha cassius and the Cape Autumn Widow Dira clytus.

We also spotted a Rhombic Night Adder (Causus rhombeatus) crossing the path late one afternoon.

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Way back in April we travelled to the Karoo NP for Araminta’s first camping trip. The Karoo NP is (aptly enough!) situated in the Karoo close to the town of Beaufort West.

It is a place of spectacular scenery:

I took the opportunity to complete a pentad for the Southern Africa Bird Atlas Project. I managed 43 species with 2 lifers – Yellow-bellied Eromela (Eromela icteropygialis) and Karoo Long-billed Lark (Certhilauda subcoronata). I did not find either of my two target species- Ground Woodpecker (Geocalaptes olivaceus) or Short-toed Rock Thrush (Monticola brevipes). I did see some nice birds however, including:

Rufous-eared Warbler Malcorus pectoralis.

Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk Melierax metabates.

Karoo Long-billed Lark Certhilauda subcoronata.

Verreaux’s Eagles Aquila verreauxii sunning themselves.

There were plenty of mammals also, including:

Rock Hyrax (Dassie) Procavia capensis.

Red Hartebeest Alcelaphus buselaphus.

Cape Mountain Zebra Equus zebra zebra.

Greater Kudu Tragelaphus strepsicoros.

Springbok Antidorcas marsupialis.

We went on a night drive where the best sighting was a glimpse of two Aardwolf (Proteles cristatus).

I saw a few reptiles including this Leopard Tortoise Stigmochelys pardalis:

There were some interesting invertebrates as well, including:

Koppie Foam Grasshopper Dictyophorus spumans.

Scorpion Opistophthalmus karrooensis.

I spotted a number of butterflies which have been submitted to the Southern African Butterfly Conservation Assessment’s Virtual Museum:

As yet unidentified Lycaenidae Butterfly.

Painted Lady Butterfly Cynthia cardui.

As yet unidentified butterfly (Colotis sp.).

Another still to be identified Butterfly (probably an Opal Chrysoritis sp.).

Yellow Pansy Butterfly Junonia hierta.

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On the 4th of October, 2008 I went on my first pelagic trip. The trip was run especially for Ruth Miller & Alan Davies who are attempting to see more bird species in a year than anyone else. their adventure is called The Biggest Twitch. The pelagic was organized by Zest For Birds a non-profit group that runs these trips regularly out of Cape Town, South Africa.

After an early start we left the harbour on board the Zest II, a converted Navy tender. The harbour brought the usual gulls, cormorants, terns & gannets, as well as a number of Southern Right Whales (Eubalaena australis).

Once clear of the harbour we spotted the first of the pelagic species (and my first lifer of the day) – a White-chinned Petrel (Procellaria aquinoctialis). These were one of the commonest species encountered on the trip.

White-chinned Petrel (Procellaria aquinoctialis)

Also spotted on the way out were Shy Albatross (Thalassarche cauta), Sooty Shearwater (Puffinus griseus), Great Shearwater (Puffinus gravis), Northern Giant Petrel (Macronectes halli), and Pintado Petrel.

Great Shearwater Puffinus gravis

Immature Shy Albatross (Thalassarche cauta)

A number of trawlers were visible on the horizon & we headed towards one. The crowd of birds in its wake was unbelievable!

Cloud of seabirds feeding in the wake of a trawler. That’s Table Mountain and Cape Point in the background.

Our species total rapidly increased: Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross (Thalassarche chlororhynchos), Black-browed Albatross (Thalassarche melanophris), two species of timy storm-petrel: Wilson’s  (Oceanites oceanus) and the less-common Black-bellied (Fregetta tropica) which looked like butterflies as they fluttered between the waves.

Black-browed Albatross (Thalassarche melanophris)

The species list continued to increase as we followed the trawler’s wake: Sub-antarctic Skua (Catharacta antarctica) and Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross (Thalassarche carteri). Suddenly a cry went up “White back!” (Only 4 Albatross in the region have white backs.) It was a young Wandering Albatross (Diomedea exulans), the largest of all albatrosses having the largest wingspan of any living bird. Though not fully grown it was an amazing sight and definitely a highlight of the trip.

Wandering Albatross (Diomedea exulans)

The final new bird seen in the feeding frenzy was a single Southern Giant-petrel (Macronectes giganteus) which differs from the Northern Giant-petrel in the green tip to its bill. (The Northern has a reddish-brown tip.)

Feeding seabirds in the wake of a trawler.

Heading back to Cape Town we added one more pelagic species to our lists as fleeting glimses were had of 2 Soft-plumaged Petrels (Pterodroma mollis).

An absolutely fantastic experience that every birder should undertake at least once in their life. I added 16 new species to my life list and had an amazing time.

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Some months ago I visited Citrusdal for the Easter long weekend, staying at the Koedoeskop Farm. The weather turned out to be very hot but we still had an enjoyable & relaxing time. I did a bit of birding–including a Pentad for the Southern African Bird Atlas Project 2 (SABAP2), spotted a few reptiles, and also photographed some Butterflies for the South African Butterfly Conservation Assessment (SABCA).

Red-sided Skink (Trachylepis homalocephala) at Koedoeskop Farm.

Agama lizards–probably Southern Rock Agamas (Agama atra) at Koedoeskop Farm.

As well as completing the local pentad centered on Koedoeskop farm, on our final morning I traveled out to Kransvleipoort with a friend chasing the Protea Seedeater (Crithagra leucoptera) & Layard’s Tit-babbler (Parisoma layardi). We were fortunate to get good looks at both species. I also got to tick a Cardinal Woodpecker (Dendropicos fuscescens)–making 3 lifers for the trip.

Verreaux’s Eagle (Aquila verreauxii) catching the early morning sun at Kransvleipoort.

The rocky slopes above the farm were home to the spectacular Paintbrush Lily (Haemanthus coccineus) in full bloom.

Female Red-veined Dropwing Trithemis pluvialis at Koedoeskop Farm, Citrusdal, South Africa.

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On the 8th of March, 2008 I visited the West Coast National Park with the Sonmerset West Bird Club. The first great sighting was not however a bird but rather a Caracal. This was my first sighting of this shy & not often seen cat. Unfortunately no photos, though we had quite good but fleeting views.

We visited all of the bird hides in search of waders with some success, though the tides were not ideal; as well as Abrahamskraal waterhole (one of the parks few sources of fresh water).

My bird list for the day totalled 62 species–four of them lifers: Grey-winged Francolin (Scleroptila africanus) which was a target sopecies for me in the park; Lesser Honeyguides (Indicator minor) which were hanging around the nest of a pair of Acacia Pied Barbet (Tricholaema leucomelas) (The Lersser Honeyguide is a parasitic species, laying its eggs in the nest of other species.); Little Stint (Calidris minuta); and Large-billed Lark (Galerida magnirostris).

Male and female Yellow Canaries (Crithagra flaviventris) drinking at Abrahamskraal.

Grey-winged Francolin (Scleroptila africanus) near the Seeburg hide.

Southern Black Korhaan (Eupodotis afraoides)

I also took the opportunity to photograph a few butterflies for submission to the South African Butterfly Conservation Assessment’s Virtual Museum. This is a Cape Black-eye (Leptomyrina lara).

All in all a fantastic day’s outing & the park is highly recommended for all birders–and anyone who enjoys apending time in the great outdoors.

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January 30 saw me set out on my first twitch – to Strandfontein in search of a recently reported rarity, a Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava). Last year I missed the Wilson’s Phalarope–it left before I could find the time to see it–soI was eager to try my luck at Strandfontein.

I left late in the afternoon after work & the bird’s location was easily found–just look for the cluster of birders staring out over the pan. Unfortunately, the group had last seen the bird 10 minutes before I arrived & despite searching until the sun began to set I was not able to find it. Nevertheless, it was a good trip. Strandfontein is always productive & I was even able to add 3 new birds to my life list: African Marsh Harrier (Circus ranivorus) and Hottentot Teal (Anas hottentota). On the way in I had wonderful views of a pair of Spotted Dikkop [Thick-knee] (Burhinus capensis) with a young chick right by the edge of the road:

Other sightings included one of my favourite birds, Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus):

This brief visit produced 37 species. I also met Trevor & Margaret Hardaker. Trevor is a bit of a birding guru & I had been enjoying the pictures and trip-reports on his website for a while.

3 days later I headed back for a second go. It was a Saturday, so I left earlier than my last try. I spoke to a number of birds driving around the site and no one had spotted the Wagtail that day. After about 40 mins of searching I was driving & spotted a flash of yellow. Could it be? Yes!! The Wagtail!! I yelled out to a birder 100m or so away whom I’d just spoken with & he managed to get a glimpse of it before it flew away (not however, before I managed to snap a picture–possibly the worst picture of a Yellow Wagtail ever!–look for the dark blotch perched on a rock right in the centre of the photo):

Luckily we were able to relocate the bird without much difficulty & were able to get good views (and an OK, but not great photo):

There were plenty of other birds around–38 species in total including lots of obliging Barn Swallows (Hirundo Rustica):

On the way out I came across a mass of swallows & swifts feeding on insects:

I can see how this twitching business could become addictive! For better pictures of the Yellow wagtail, see Trevor Hardaker’s photo here.

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