Category Archives: Birding Trips

Punda Mania 2014 – The Madness Continues

Third Time Lucky?

We had participated in two of these special weekend birding events in previous years, based in Punda Maria camp, and had enjoyed the vibe of a group of keen birders and the unbeatable location of the event, taking in a large chunk of the northern part of Kruger Park. The scoring is probably not meant to be that important, but people and in particular keen birders are competitive animals and it certainly adds to the spirit of an event such as this.

So being the optimistic lot that we are and in anticipation of some special birding experiences, we once again put our names down for the event planned for November 2014.

Thursday

George Skinner and I left Pretoria early and followed the familiar route to Punda Maria. George had arranged with well-known bird guide Samson Mulaudzi to meet him near the Entabeni Forest, which we duly did around 10.45 am and we proceeded into the forest area, hoping for a few specials. Both Lesser and Scaly-throated Honeyguides were easily located by call and the latter was seen flying and trying its best to stay out of sight in the canopy as it did a wide circle around us.

Entabeni Forest
Entabeni Forest
Bat Hawk, Entabeni Forest
Bat Hawk, Entabeni Forest

From there we drove close to the river to a spot where Half-collared Kingfisher was quickly located, then to the spot where Bat Hawk has been nesting for more than 10 years and we soon found it perched high in the tall trees, just off the gravel road. This was a lifer for me, thanks to Samson!

Satisfied with this short birding sortie, we carried on to Punda Maria gate an hour or so away, arriving at the camp at 2.20 pm, to be greeted by the West Rand Honorary Rangers (HR’s) team of William, Monika and Norma who all feel like old friends the third time around.

Punda Maria entrance gate
Punda Maria entrance gate

The Event Starts

Punda Maria chalets
Punda Maria chalets

Check-in and finding our comfortable bungalow did not take long and by 3pm we were back in the air-conditioned restaurant for the briefing led by Monika, who explained the HR’s role and wonderful sponsorship spread over a variety of efforts in many of the National Parks.

Then it was Joe Grosel’s turn to highlight the attractions, features and different habitats of this special part of the Kruger National Park, from Giant Rats to Racket-tailed Rollers, his passion for the area clearly showing.

Once done with the briefing, it was time for the first late afternoon drive and we had hardly left the gate when we were surrounded by a bird party gathered in and around a large tree – I could barely keep up listing the species on Birdlasser, my new bird atlasing App.

White-browed Robin-Chat, Punda Maria
White-browed Robin-Chat, Punda Maria
Brown-crowned Tchagra, Punda Maria
Brown-crowned Tchagra, Punda Maria

Destination PWNJ Lek

As in previous years, a highlight of this event is the visit to the Lek where the rare Pennant-winged Nightjar does its display flight at dusk – this was our destination once again and there was a swell of anticipation as the 40 – odd (the number not the birders, although some of them are pretty odd as well) birders sipped our Strettons G & T’s and waited for the action in the gathering dusk. Well, as Joe put it, it was like the Springbok’s loss to the Irish the previous weekend – disappointing – as the PWNJ’s kept their distance with just one doing a rapid fly past, but nevertheless tickable for my atlas list.

Sunset at the lek, Punda Maria
Sunset at the lek, Punda Maria

Punda Mania 2014-4

On the way back to the camp we came across a magnificent Giant Eagle-Owl, imperious on his perch in a large tree.

Verraux's Eagle-Owl
Verraux’s Eagle-Owl
And it's not eye make-up, all natural
And it’s not eye make-up, all natural

Dinner was a bring and braai and we headed to bed with thoughts of the treasure hunt and a long day’s birding the next day.

Friday

Up (very) early after a 3.30 am alarm, to be ready for the treasure hunt drive at 4.15 am. The treasure hunt entails deciphering cryptic clues into a list of 14 bird, animal and tree species, then finding and photographing each one before returning to the camp by the cut-off time of 12.30 pm, for adjudication by Joe Grosel.

Once every one was on the safari truck, we made our way to Pafuri area, not encountering much of interest until the light allowed us to see the surrounding bush a bit clearer, starting with Black-chested Snake-Eagle and followed by good numbers of birds. A brief diversion to Kloppenheim area added some water-reliant species such as Squacco Heron, Water Thick-Knee, Common Moorhen (unusual in the Kruger), Black Crake and Three-banded Plover.

Punda Mania 2014-31

African Wild Cat
African Wild Cat
Common Scimitarbill
Common Scimitarbill
Broadbilled Roller
Broadbilled Roller
Pit stop for our team
Pit stop for our team
Giant Kingfisher
Giant Kingfisher

Onwards to the Luvuvhu bridge at Pafuri for the usual feast of birding and back to the Pafuri area itself with a lengthy stop at Crook’s Corner, which provided a good boost to our growing list of bird species recorded. A feature of the day’s birding was the number of bird parties we encountered, some called up by Ranger/Driver Jobe who uses his skill at imitating the Pearl-spotted Owlet to draw the birds nearer. On a few occasions we had between 10 and 15 species in close proximity to the vehicle and had to work hard to keep up with ID-ing them all.

At the Pafuri picnic spot, Norma and her colleagues had prego rolls ready which went down a treat, while we continued to scan the area for as yet un-ticked species.

Pafuri picnic spot
Pafuri picnic spot
White-crowned Lapwing
White-crowned Lapwing
Bearded Scrub-Robin
Bearded Scrub-Robin
Ground Hornbill
Ground Hornbill
Great Egret
Great Egret

By then it was late morning and we had found most of the target species, so it was time to head back to camp to be in time for the cut-off – on the way we came across our final target species – Crested Francolin, which had amazingly eluded us till then. Our only slip-up was choosing the wrong Euphorbia species to photograph.

Some of the species we had to find and photograph :

Little Swift
Little Swift
Predator footprint
Predator footprint
Reptile
Reptile
Emerald-spotted Wood-Dove
Emerald-spotted Wood-Dove
Trumpeter Hornbill
Trumpeter Hornbill
Crested Francolin (only just)
Crested Francolin (only just)

After this intense species-hunting, it was time for a siesta until the next round of clues – this time covering targets in the camp itself, which turned into quite a challenge, but again we managed to get all of them photographed between 4 and 6 pm, almost coming short on the Passer Domesticus (House Sparrow) once again, but a last-minute rush to find a “proper” one saved the day.

Vervet Monkey, Punda Maria camp
Vervet Monkey, Punda Maria camp
Dark-capped Bulbul, Punda Maria camp
Paradise Flycatcher, Punda Maria camp
Dark-capped Bulbul, Punda Maria camp
Dark-capped Bulbul, Punda Maria camp
Passer Domesticus, Punda Maria camp
Passer Domesticus, Punda Maria camp

A slightly dazed Pygmy Kingfisher which had flown into a restaurant window, drew some attention away from the goings on in the camp

Pygmy Kingfisher, Punda Maria camp
Pygmy Kingfisher, Punda Maria camp

All that remained was the dreaded Quiz which went a little better than previous years but once again some hasty decisions cost us valuable points, leaving us with only the atlasing session the next day to catch up to the leading teams.

Saturday

Our atlasing session turned into a marathon, starting at just after 4 am and ending at 3 pm when we eventually returned to the camp. Each team was allocated a “good” pentad and a “poor” pentad to atlas, the good one being in a lush bushveld area and including a stretch of river while the poor pentad was in a dry area dominated by Mopane bush. What we were not told was that only the “poor” pentad total would count towards the scoring and so we focused our attention and time on the “good” pentad, leaving the “poor” pentad for later in the day when birds generally take cover from the heat.

At least we enjoyed some excellent early morning birding in the windless, overcast conditions and in prime bushveld, which included the new Nyala Wilderness Trail camp on a bend of the Luvuvhu river with views over the river and the koppies beyond. This was also the cue to enjoy coffee and rusks in this beautiful location.

 

Wahlberg's Eagle
Wahlberg’s Eagle
Honey Badger
Honey Badger
Red-crested Korhaan
Red-crested Korhaan
Arnot's Chat
Arnot’s Chat

After a short drive further we alighted from the vehicle again to take a walk along a stretch of the river, which produced a few species including a highly debated Wagtail which photos showed was a Pied Wagtail despite arguments to the contrary. Then an even shorter drive to a viewpoint over the river which we knew from previous visits to Punda Maria, with wonderful views over the river below.

We continued atlasing productively until we left the pentad after about 2.5 hours of recording and headed south towards the “poor” pentad some distance away, which we entered after 12.00 pm after some heavy debate about where we were in relation to the map provided by Sanparks. Inexperience at working with co-ordinates, which are essential for atlasing, meant there was a total misconception on the part of our driver as to where the pentad boundary was and we found ourselves a full pentad (about 8 km) out of position in a north-south direction.

After much lively discussion and some input on my part (as the only regular atlasser in our team), we did eventually find the pentad boundary, but the map versus co-ordinates debate continued unabated, also due to non-existent roads being shown on the map. The area we found ourselves in was single habitat – Mopane bush with no pans or any other water, so atlasing was slow and quite laborious in the heat of the day and we were relieved when we had completed the minimum 2 hours of atlasing and could head back to the camp. On the way back a Coqui Francolin surprised us as he crossed the road in front of our vehicle.

Baboon
Baboon

Punda Mania 2014-39

Coqui Francolin
Coqui Francolin

The Final Curtain

A last visit to the lek was spectacular, with the male Pennant-winged Nightjar performing majestically, floating back and forward just above tree height and settling on a rock for a minute or two.

G and T's at the Lek
G and T’s at the Lek
Pennant-winged Nightjar Lek
Pennant-winged Nightjar Lek
Pennant-winged Nightjar Lek
Pennant-winged Nightjar Lek
Pennant-winged Nightjar (Photo : George Skinner)
Pennant-winged Nightjar (Photo : George Skinner)

As usual the Honorary Rangers and Sanparks put on a fine closing out dinner and prize-giving but unfortunately our team had fallen out of the running completely.

Punda Mania 2014-28

Nevertheless a great event that added to our appreciation of this part of Kruger, although three in a row is probably enough for the time being.

Mozambique Birding Trip : Getting Home

The Conclusion

Those brave souls who have read the 3 part story of our trip through Mozambique, will know that we had to cut it short due to a propshaft bearing that collapsed under the punishment meted out by a certain rutted road, leaving us temporarily stranded at Mphingwe camp, just south of the Zambezi river. This is the conclusion of the story – how we got the vehicle repaired, our enforced longer stay at Mphingwe and our experiences getting home. Finally, I have included my overall Impressions of Mozambique.

Day 11 : Coutada 12 Birding (Squeezing in)

I woke up early and rather despondent this Sunday morning, not knowing how we were going to get ourselves and the vehicle back home. There seemed to be just 2 options – fix the car here and drive home or get home by other means and arrange to repatriate the car – neither would be simple but it would be a lot easier if we could just drive the car back ourselves.

To take our minds off the problem and encouraged by the others in the group, we squeezed the whole team into the remaining 2 vehicles and set off to do mostly forest birding in the Coutada 12 area, along with some woodland birding, hoping to clinch some of the difficult (for the time of year) specials. Thanks are due to Owen and Sue for making room for us in their vehicle, which turned a potentially depressing day into another great day of birding. In fact I was able to add another 3 lifers to my list :

  • Short-winged Cisticola perched high up on a dry tree
  • The very distinctive and colourful Chestnut-fronted Helmetshrike, which was followed moments later by a group of their close cousins, Retz’s Helmetshrike
  • Orange-winged Pytilia in woodland
Chestnut-fronted Helmetshrike, Mphingwe camp
Chestnut-fronted Helmetshrike – not pleased for some reason

Other significant birds we came across (any one of them would be a great sighting for the average SA birder) :

  • Martial Eagle circling overhead
  • Common Scimitarbill
  • Green-backed Woodpecker
  • White-breasted Cuckooshrike
  • Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher
  • Cabanis’s Bunting
  • Narina Trogon – flying right over our heads

In the forests we tried the “waiting for the bus” routine again, hoping that some of the shy species would be curious and come and join us, but we only came up with Tiny Greenbul, which called frequently and then played hide-and-seek with us, affording a brief glimpse or two

Back at Mphingwe we enjoyed a last dinner with the full group, as those still mobile would be heading to Zimbabwe the next day. Our fate lay squarely in the hands of Joe, the resident mechanic looking after the sawmill, who would look at the Touareg in the morning and confirm our options. We had a date with him for 6.30 am at the sawmill.

Day 12 : Solving the Car Problems and Time for Contemplation

We took the car to the sawmill just after 6 am for Joe to have a look and once we had it up on the ramp, his recommendation was simple and quick – get the part and he will fix it.

So we set about getting the part, which meant driving cautiously and slowly up to the tar road – anything over 30 km/h and the knocking would start – and towards the nearest tower for a cellphone signal, where I spent some time phoning various people in SA to arrange for the part to be supplied and paid for. That was the easier part – getting the part to Mphingwe seemed to be a real problem until Pat, the wife of Mphingwe’s owner Ant White, suggested her daughter, based in Johannesburg, would be prepared to collect the part from Pretoria and fly to Beira the following day, where after Pat would arrange for it to be transported by “Runner” (one of their employees from Beira) on a “Shapa” (local min-bus taxi) to Mphingwe. These people are nothing short of amazing! With luck the part would be here in two days. The only proviso was that I would pick up the cost of her air ticket to Beira and back, which I did with alacrity and relief. The benefit to them was an opportunity for mother and daughter to have a day or two together in Beira, so definitely a winning solution all round.

At the same time Neithard was making arrangements to get both his damaged vehicle and himself and Kathrin back to Pretoria, which was looking like a lengthy affair.

By lunchtime our arrangements were done and we could relax for the rest of the day. I took a walk along the Suni Trail which winds through the forest and had a magical time with the many butterflies, which posed for some beautiful photos in the soft dappled light of the forest.

Suni Trail
Suni Trail
Army ants on the march
Army ants on the march
Gold-banded forester / skaduweedansertjie (Euphaedra neophron neophron)
Gold-banded forester / skaduweedansertjie (Euphaedra neophron neophron)
False dotted-border / valsvoelentwitjie (Belenois thysa thysa)
False dotted-border / valsvoelentwitjie (Belenois thysa thysa)
Eyed bush brown (henotesia perspicua)
Eyed bush brown (henotesia perspicua)

Birds were not plentiful in the immediate vicinity of the camp but some nice specials occur including Crested Guineafowl (aka The Rockers – which will make sense if you’ve ever heard a group of them doing their call, which sounds like a rock band warming up, plus their wild hairstyle), Black-bellied Starling and Yellow-bellied Greenbul. The resident Emerald-spotted Wood-Doves and Tambourine Doves provide a constant soothing background sound with their calls right through the day.

Our equally stranded camp-mates Neithard and Katherina, with Mandy (part time emergency nurse), Mphingwe camp
Our equally stranded camp-mates Neithard and Katherina, with Mandy (part-time emergency nurse), Mphingwe camp
Heading to fire up the donkey for the hot water, Mphingwe camp
Heading to fire up the donkey for the hot water, Mphingwe camp
Black-bellied Starling, Mphingwe camp
Black-bellied Starling, Mphingwe camp

The evening meal was memorable for a great sirloin steak and good conversation with Neithard and Kathrin, all of us in the same boat at that stage, in rough waters and no paddle in sight.

Day 13 : Waiting for the Part and some birding at Mphingwe

A day of waiting, while the vital spare part travels from Pretoria to Mphingwe near Caia in Mozambique via Jo’burg (by plane to) Beira (by Shapa to) Mphingwe all courtesy of Pat and her daughter Carrie, or Wonder Woman as I was now regarding her. Our hopes were that it would arrive the next morning and be fitted without a problem – what if it was the wrong part?

To pass the time George and I took a long birding walk along the Suni Trail, diverted to the track down to the sawmill and returned via the main dirt road back to the camp.

This helped to push the pentad total (I hadn’t given up atlasing) up to 31 with some exciting species such as

  • Terrestial Brownbul
  • Bearded Scrub-Robin
  • Mangrove Kingfisher
  • Common Cuckoo
  • Red-throated Twinspot
  • Chestnut-fronted Helmetshrike
  • Eastern Nicator
Mphingwe walk
Mphingwe walk
Terrestial Brownbul
Terrestial Brownbul
Grey-backed Camaroptera
Grey-backed Camaroptera
Natal acraea / Natalse rooitjie (Acraea natalica natalica)
Natal acraea / Natalse rooitjie (Acraea natalica natalica)
Green-banded swallowtail / groenlintswaelstert (Princeps nireus lyaeus)
Green-banded swallowtail / groenlintswaelstert (Princeps nireus lyaeus)

All in all some excellent birding and plenty of Butterflies

The rest of the day was relaxed with another good dinner to close out the day.

Day 14 : Replacing the part – an all day event

The bearing arrived
The bearing arrived

We took the Touareg down to the sawmill just after 6 am and left it with Joe who had assured us it would be a quick job. Well it didn’t turn out that way as an “hour or so” job turned into a whole day affair as Joe and his men had to dis-assemble and re-assemble the propshaft bearings to get the centre carrier bearing in place, in the process having to fashion special tools to fit the VW components.

So we postponed our departure until the next day, hoping an early start would get us to Beit Bridge in the day.

We got through the day with much sitting around, reading and contemplating – the only birds that raised any interest were a pair of Crested Guineafowl making their way through the camp and a Bateleur and what looked like a Long-crested Eagle soaring high overhead.

Mphingwe camp
Mphingwe camp
Our home for an extended stay, Mphingwe camp
Our home for an extended stay, Mphingwe camp
Crested Guineaufowl, Mphingwe camp
Crested Guineaufowl, Mphingwe camp
Gaika blue (Zizula hylax hylax)
Gaika blue (Zizula hylax hylax)
False chief / bontvalsrooitjie (Pseudacraea lucretia tarquinia)
False chief / bontvalsrooitjie (Pseudacraea lucretia tarquinia)

With plenty of time on our hands, there was a chance to appreciate the smaller wildlife and the camp was full of interesting lizards, bugs, ants and others – the shower and toilet block was a magnet for them and I counted over 20 species of insects, moths and dragonflies during one “sitting”. A couple of small black snakes had to be persuaded to leave the toilet including one which was curled up under the hollow seat!

Transparent Dragonfly, Mphingwe camp
Transparent Dragonfly, Mphingwe camp
Furry little caterpillar, Mphingwe camp
Furry little caterpillar, Mphingwe camp
Mphingwe camp
Mphingwe camp
Millipede, Mphingwe camp
Millipede, Mphingwe camp (as long as my middle finger)
Ants on a cracker, Mphingwe camp
Ants on a cracker, Mphingwe camp

Day 15 and 16 : The long and winding road home

We set off at our planned time of 5 am in near dark, gradually getting lighter as we progressed slowly along the potholed road to Inchope. The first 260 km took all of 4 and a half hours as I drove gingerly around and through the badly potholed sections.

From Inchope to the Zimbabwe border was a little better, but there was a constant stream of trucks to contend with and some hazardous overtaking manoeuvres were the only way to make some progress. It was a relief to get onto the Zim roads which are generally in a good condition, albeit narrow.

We proceeded through Mutare and Masvingo (Fort Victoria in the “old days”) where we decided to carry on to the Lion and Elephant Motel another 2 hours away, as it was only 4.30 pm. With the light fading, I didn’t see a 60 km/h sign along the way and was stopped by a cop who tried the by now familiar scare tactics – according to him we would have to appear in court the next morning and he was clearly looking for some “persuasion” to help us avoid this fate. I stood my ground refusing to play along and eventually he wrote a R200 fine which I paid and we proceeded on our way. I was only too glad to get away from that spot, having smelt alcohol on his breath.

The motel was a welcome sight some time later, after 14 hours of driving the 950 kms from Mphingwe.

Next morning we were up early and at the Beit Bridge border post where yet another pair of cops looked for some reward for letting us through, after a veiled threat of having to search the vehicle for drugs – “but the guy who does the search will only be here at 10 am” implying a 4 hour wait for us.

Once again we refused to play along but “rewarded” them with a couple of our remaining snack bars which they took in disgust and waved us on.

The rest of the trip home was uneventful other than another speeding ticket – think I was just too tired to spot the signs by then – and we got back to Pretoria around 1 pm, thankful that Joe had done a good job on the Touareg, which had made it without further problems.

The end of the trip
The end of the trip
The end of the trip
The end of the trip

 Impressions of Mozambique

The Birding

With our trip cut short by car trouble we spent about 10 days birding in a diverse range of habitats and places including

  • Wetlands and floodplains
  • Forests
  • Tidal flats and estuaries
  • Beaches
  • Woodland
  • Roadside spots
  • Bridges

Birds were plentiful and the Moz specials were there, although it proved quite difficult to get a good view at times. I was very pleased with the 30 lifers that I chalked up and with the general quality of birding overall.

The Roads

On a long trip like this the quality of the roads becomes important and this is where Moz is a less attractive birding destination, unless you are prepared to risk damage to your vehicle, don’t mind dodging potholes for long stretches and can remain relaxed despite some atrocious road conditions. We drove many different roads and experienced every imaginable road condition :

  • Good tar roads limited to the south of Moz
  • Severely potholed tar roads further north with the Inchope – Caia road being the worst
  • Sand roads varying from reasonable to poor, but still preferable to potholed tar
  • Rutted, rock hard gravel roads – such as the one that caused 2 of the vehicles damage
  • Rain in places added to the stress of driving

Villages and towns we passed through often have hawkers both sides of the road and buses, trucks and cars parked anywhere and everywhere so require particular caution

The People

The vast majority of people are obviously poor but friendly and we saw some back-breaking tasks being performed for probably very little compensation. I did not pick up any feeling of aggression from the “have-nots” in the way we often experience it in SA.

Bicycles are an important form of transport and we were amazed to see the loads that get transported – 3 or 4 heavy bags of charcoal and in one case cement get transported long distances in this way.

Strings of people along the roads near towns are a common sight as taxis are few and money tight.

The Food

Chicken is a popular item on menus and often the safe choice. Surprisingly fish was scarce, even at the coast. Our best meals were at Mphingwe where we had superb sirloin steaks and all meals were tasty. The local beers were good – Manica and 2M (Dosh M). Our other meals were self-prepared and simple – rusks early morning with coffee, snack bars in between and tuna, pork in tins, sardines, cheese etc on cracker bread and the like for lunch. Being able to boil water for coffee/tea wherever we stopped long enough was a real boon.

The Weather

We expected hot and humid and we got exactly that – winter may be a better option as being in a constant bath of sweat is not enjoyable and can detract from the pleasure of the surroundings and bird life.

Occasional rain brought some respite from the oppressive heat, but not for long.

The Accommodation

The tour is not about luxury accommodation – what you get is fairly basic but comfortable in rustic surrounds – a clean bed, simple bathroom (communal at Mphingwe) aircon (except Mphingwe) and the important mosquito nets

The Guide

There is no question that having a guide with the expertise in birding and the knowledge and experience of Mozambique is invaluable and trying to do this trip without Etienne would have resulted in dipping on many of the special birds.

Personally, I would have liked to have spent more time photographing some of the birds, but this would only be possible if a specific photography trip was arranged, as it requires a very different approach – ie spending a lot more time in certain locations rather than trying to cover as much ground as possible.

Mozambique Birding Trip : Mostly Magical (Part 3)

The Trip so far

We had set out to cover some of the best summer birding spots of southern Mozambique during a 15 day birding trip and, in the 6 days covered by Parts 1 and 2, we had already seen a lot of special birds. This Part 3 includes further birding of the Rio Savane area outside Beira, then we continue northwards to Mphingwe and the assorted delights of lowland forests plus a hazardous trip to the Zambesi River to look for a highly sought after species of Bee-eater.

The Group

Etienne Marais (Indicator Birding : http://birding.co.za ), our group leader and guide for the trip, with his passengers Corné Rautenbach, Edith Oosthuizen and Bruce Dyer who had all flown up from Cape Town for the trip, Owen and Sue Oertli from Johannesburg, Neithard and Katharina Graf von Durkheim from Pretoria, Myself (also Pretoria) and George Skinner (Johannesburg, but at the time I write this has “emigrated” to Dullstroom).

In describing the trip I have again borrowed from the itinerary which Etienne had drawn up and distributed prior to the trip and which sets it out nicely on a day by day basis ……….

Day 7 Beira to Mphingwe

“After some early morning birding in the Rio Savane area, we depart northwards on the Dondo-Muanza road. This drive is long and the road poor – but it offers excellent birding in the woodlands en route

Overnight : Mphingwe Camp (the cabins are simple wood structures which are pleasantly furnished and beautifully situated within the woodland. The restaurant offers a limited but good menu and early morning coffee is usually provided 30 minutes before departure time.”

Rendezvous time at our lodge in Beira was 5 am for breakfast, but the staff had misunderstood and we had to wait a short while until they were ready.

Immediately after breakfast, we left and headed back to the Rio Savane area for further attempts to find some of the secretive species.

The 40 km of sandy road leading to the Rio Savane was busier this morning and we once again marveled at the local men, riding old-fashioned “dikwiel” bicycles, trying to earn a few Meticals by delivering long bags of charcoal to agents somewhere in town (ie 80 km or more there and back) – there were many of these fit men (some older men too) visible on the road, carefully steering their bikes with their heavy loads mounted crosswise behind the seat.

Charcoal transporters, Rio Savane
Charcoal transporters, Rio Savane

Various stops on the way through the lush fields of grass produced Osprey, Lizard Buzzard, several Black-chested Snake-Eagles again, 5 or 6 African Marsh-Harriers (where else is this species a “trash bird”?) and many Yellow-throated Longclaws.

Rio Savane
Rio Savane
Rio Savane
Rio Savane

Giant Kingfisher was a new one for the trip, as was a pair of Wattled Cranes with a youngster at the far end of one field.

Wattled Crane, Rio Savane (a long way from the camera)
Wattled Crane, Rio Savane (a long way from the camera)

The bridge where we looked for Seedcracker yesterday was busier today with White-browed Robin, Tawny-flanked Prinia, Spectacled Weaver and Black-throated Wattle-Eye (first and only sighting of this species on the trip) all busily going about their daily routine in and amongst the dense bushes.

Kathrin and Edith enjoy a rest at Rio Savane (Photo : Corne Rautenbach)
Kathrin and Edith enjoy a rest at Rio Savane (Photo : Corne Rautenbach)
Dragonfly
Dragonfly

We followed this with a couple of “rope trick” attempts, hoping to flush a Blue Quail, but to no avail and we returned sweating to the vehicles but energized for the long (in terms of time) trip to Mphingwe.

We did 9 hours of driving in all for the day, covering some 480 km on the way to Mphingwe along the EN1 National road, which for long stretches is in a shocking state, so it was a case of constant vigilance and a drunken style of driving, swerving back and forth to avoid the worst potholes. Passing Gorongosa National Park, we stopped to take in the view of the Gorongosa mountain in the distance.

Gorongosa
Gorongosa
A stop on the road near Gorongosa
A stop on the road near Gorongosa
Stick insect, Gorongosa (males are usually smaller than females)
Stick insect, Gorongosa (males are usually smaller than females)

Once settled in at Mphingwe, we enjoyed a superb dinner – simple food well cooked.

Mphingwe turn-off
Mphingwe turn-off

We had arrived to heavy rain and hoped that the weather would play along the next day, which promised to be special.

Day 8 and 9 Catapu Area

“We have three full days in the Catapu area which includes the Zambesi River and associated wetlands, the Zangue floodplain, Coutada 12 and Catapu itself. The time will be managed according to the birds we see and what the priorities are. Catapu provides access to excellent patches of lowland forest…. In late summer large numbers of Cuckoos are often present.

Overnight : Mphingwe Camp.”

We had our first exposure to proper lowland forest birding, doing a long circuit on day 8 and a shorter out-and-back trip on day 9.

The forest was pristine and stretched for tens of kms and it seemed that wherever we stopped there was bird life aplenty to be seen. Once off the tar road, which also provided excellent roadside birding but was rendered a little hazardous by passing trucks and buses, we made frequent stops along the quiet sandy roads, each stop providing opportunities to see and hear the numerous specials.

Road through the forest, Catapu area
Road through the forest, Catapu area
Here comes the team (part of it) (Photo : Corne Rautenbach)
Here comes the team (part of it) (Photo : Corne Rautenbach)
What's happening?  (Photo : Corne Rautenbach)
What’s happening? (Photo : Corne Rautenbach)
Butterfly : Eyed bush brown (henotesia perspicua), Catapu area
Butterfly : Eyed bush brown (henotesia perspicua), Catapu area

Some of these were fairly easily found and seen, such as :

  • Broad-tailed Paradise Whydah – up until then this species had an almost mythical feel for me, but in fact we saw it a few times during the two days, proving once again that many “rare” species change to common when you are in the right spot
Broad-tailed Paradise Whydah
Broad-tailed Paradise Whydah
  • Retz’s Helmetshrike
  • Black-winged Red Bishop (the old name of Fire-crowned Bishop still suits it better)
Black-winged Red Bishop
Black-winged Red Bishop
  • Grey-headed Parrot in small flocks, calling in typical squawky parrot fashion
Grey-headed Parrot
Grey-headed Parrot
  • Emerald Cuckoo
  • Thrush Nightingale – calling melodiously from a roadside bush but refusing to show itself, as they are wont to do
  • Buffy Pipit
Buffy Pipit
Buffy Pipit
  • Cuckoos, both Common (European) and African – each time we came across one of these it generated some discussion as to which one it was – they are very alike with only the subtlest of differences in bill colouring. At least once we wondered whether the species we were looking at could be of the Lesser/Madagascar species but could not come to a conclusion.
Cuckoo on a cable, Catapu area
Cuckoo on a cable, Catapu area
African Cuckoo, Catapu area
African Cuckoo, Catapu area
  • Zambezi Indigobird – seen a few times
  • Chestnut-fronted Helmetshrike – raised the pulse rates of a few in the group, being a lifer and quite a dramatic bird
Chestnut-fronted Helmetshrike
Chestnut-fronted Helmetshrike

Then it was the turn of some of the more difficult species as we tried to get a glimpse of Barred Long-tailed Cuckoo which was calling stridently close by, but concealing himself in the tall trees to the extent that all we could see was a dark shape flitting about, until he kindly flew across the road high above our heads, allowing the briefest of glimpses.

At certain stops, Etienne took us into the forest where the relatively clear understory allowed easy access, found a suitable clearing and had us sit down in a crescent to wait for target species to react to calls played on a remote speaker. It’s a wonderful way to do forest birding, in surroundings that couldn’t be more peaceful and the combination of sitting in a comfy camp chair, surrounded by trees with dappled sunlight filtering through the canopy, with  no  sound  but   the   soft   calls   of   forest   birds , tends .. to ..  make ..  you …  quite drowsy ….. ….. zzznnnggggzzzzznnnnggg (oops, it’s happening again) and at least one of our group succumbed for a while, head bowed and snoring quietly!

Waiting for the bus (or a rare bird) (Photo ; George Skinner)
Waiting for the bus (or a rare bird) (Photo : George Skinner)
Forest floor (Photo ; George Skinner)
Forest floor (Photo : George Skinner)
Butterfly : Brown Commodore (Junonia natalica natalica), Catapu area
Butterfly : Brown Commodore (Junonia natalica natalica), Catapu area

In this way some of the group got brief glimpses of White-chested Alethe (I think I was the only one to actually see it), Tiny Greenbul, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher and better views of East Coast Akalat.  While waiting, a Mangrove Kingfisher came and sat on a branch literally above our heads.

Mangrove Kingfisher
Mangrove Kingfisher

The calls we heard ranged from Square-tailed Drongo to Narina Trogon, in between the vociferous calls of Tiny Greenbul, very vocal but hard to see.

Overgrown track in Catapu area
Overgrown track in Catapu area
Kite Spider, Catapu area
Kite Spider, Catapu area
Joker / Tolliegrasvegter (Byblia anvatara acheloia), Catapu area
Joker / Tolliegrasvegter (Byblia anvatara acheloia), Catapu area

At other spots we waded through shoulder height grass and into wooded areas and were rewarded with sightings of Cabanis’s Bunting, Short-winged Cisticola amongst others.

More birders in the bush, Coutada 12 area
More birders in the bush, Coutada 12 area
Birders beating about the bush (Corne (Photo : Corne Rautenbach)
Birders beating about the bush (Corne (Photo : Corne Rautenbach)
Short-winged Cisticola
Short-winged Cisticola – Etienne pointed out the main feature of this bird ie no features at all

All of this wonderful birding (and some butterflies) made up for the fact that I started suffering around lunchtime with an aching body and tummy problems which got progressively worse as the day wore on – some sort of bug had got to me.

Back at Mphingwe, I skipped dinner and on one of my trips to the toilet block in the dark, while pointing my torch at the pathway to see where I was going, I hit my head against the protruding edge of the corrugated iron roof, cutting the top of my head quite severely in the process. It’s well-known that your head bleeds profusely when cut and this was very much the case with me – blood poured down my face and over my glasses until I could get hold of a towel to wrap around my head and soak up some of the worst of it. But enough of the gory detail – suffice to say I sought assistance and it came in the form of Mandy, ex nurse now working at Mphingwe and resident there, who worked some magic, cleaning the wound and applying strategic plasters that held it together. The slight scar I have will forever remind me of that evening.

The camp staff cut off the offending, dangerously protruding roof the next morning, so others won’t have to worry about suffering the same fate.

Day 10 Via Sena to Rademan’s Farm and back

Day 10 was a day of mixed fortunes, to say the least. I was not on top of the world after last night’s drama, but my head was not too uncomfortable and my tummy manageable so I clocked in with the others for the day’s outing. We left after early morning coffee at around 5.30 am and did a short recce along the road in the vicinity of the turn-off to Mphingwe, but heavy mist made it difficult to spot much, other than a Harrier-Hawk and an initially puzzling raptor which turned out to be an African Goshawk.

Misty pond near Mphingwe
Misty pond near Mphingwe
African Goshawk in the mist, Mphingwe
African Goshawk in the mist, Mphingwe

Then we moved on to Caia 30 km away for two of the vehicles to fill up with petrol, which had been unobtainable for a day or two – they had to be content with roadside “take away” petrol at inflated prices as the regular petrol station had run out. From Caia we took the road to Sena along a road which fast turned out to be the worst kind for a vehicle – rough and rutted dirt that shook the vehicles to their core for the whole 80 kms. I was concerned about what it may do to my vehicle but pressed on at speed in order not to lose contact with the rest of the group, hoping that everything would hold together.

There was a good reason for taking on this poor road – our destination was the farm where we hoped to find Bohm’s Bee-eater (remember Inspector Closeau’s “bomb”) – a highly sought after bird in the Southern African region. Part of the way there, Etienne stopped at a small graveyard with a few large Palm trees and heavy surrounding bush – ideal habitat for another desirable species, Collared Palm-Thrush, and, true to their name, there they were.

Collared Palm-Thrush, in palm grove on the Road to Sena
Collared Palm-Thrush, in palm grove on the Road to Sena
Looking for a Palm-Thrush in the dead centre of town
Looking for a Palm-Thrush in the dead centre of town
Collared Palm-Thrush
Collared Palm-Thrush

A Blue-spotted Dove made a brief appearance to add to the moment and as we were on the verge of leaving a large raptor flew over the nearby tall trees and settled in the top of one, then took off to soar high over our heads, causing much camera activity amongst the group. It turned out to be Southern Banded Snake-Eagle, despite our attempts to turn it into the Western variety, nevertheless a desirable tick.

Blue-spotted Dove
Blue-spotted Dove
Butterfly : Green-banded swallowtail / groenlintswaelstert (Princeps nireus lyaeus)
Butterfly : Green-banded swallowtail / groenlintswaelstert (Princeps nireus lyaeus)
Southern Banded Snake-Eagle, Road to Sena
Southern Banded Snake-Eagle, Road to Sena
Southern Banded Snake-Eagle, Road to Sena
Southern Banded Snake-Eagle, Road to Sena

Arriving at the farm at last, shaken but not stirred, we were immediately “greeted” by our target species, Bohm’s Bee-eater, in the garden of one homestead on the way to the main farm-house, hawking insects from open branches. Thrilled with this special sighting we recovered enough composure to check out the Yellow Wagtail nearby (thunbergi race).

Bohm's Bee-Eater, Rademan's Farm on Zambezi River
Bohm’s Bee-Eater, Rademan’s Farm on Zambezi River
Bohm's Bee-Eater, Rademan's Farm on Zambezi River
Bohm’s Bee-Eater, Rademan’s Farm on Zambezi River
Yellow Wagtail (race Thunbergi)
Yellow Wagtail (race Thunbergi)

Etienne had the owner’s permission to use their verandah even though they were not at home, which we gladly did, enjoying breakfast with a view of the Zambesi at the bottom of the garden and several species in the trees. I wonder where else would you be able to view six species of Bee-eater in one location? Apart from Bohm’s there were White-fronted, Little, Carmine, Blue-cheeked and European Bee-eaters.

On the verandah at Rademan's Farm (Photo : Corne Rautenbach)
On the verandah at Rademan’s Farm (Photo : Corne Rautenbach)
The gardens at Rademan's Farm, Zambezi River in the distance
The gardens at Rademan’s Farm, Zambezi River in the distance

A walk around the garden and birding a patch of dense undergrowth nearby added a number of species with highlights being :

  • Great Reed-Warbler calling constantly from the undergrowth
  • Goliath Heron flying overhead
  • Rufous-bellied Heron over the river
  • Thrush Nightingale and Basra Reed-Warbler calling from the same clump of bushes but remaining concealed despite our attempts to flush them
  • Willow Warbler foraging in the trees
Willow Warbler
Willow Warbler
Striped Kingfisher, Rademan's Farm on Zambezi River
Striped Kingfisher, Rademan’s Farm on Zambezi River

Eventually we gathered ourselves for the return journey along the same bone-rattling and car-shaking road – we hadn’t gone very far when my heart sank as I felt and heard a knocking from the transmission tunnel next to my seat, gradually getting worse until I was forced to drive at snail’s pace for the last 30 kms, but fortunately made it back to Mphingwe. Neithard and Kathrin in their Pathfinder were less fortunate as the fan had dislodged itself and caused the radiator to lose all its coolant, so the remaining 2 vehicles had to help get them back to the camp. A disastrous end to an amazing day’s birding! One consolation was a Moustached Grass-Warbler in long grass next to the road, a lifer for me.

Moustached Grass Warbler, on the Road to Sena
Moustached Grass Warbler, on the Road to Sena

The next day was Sunday so any attempts to repair the Touareg would have to wait until Monday, when Joe, an experienced Mechanic and responsible for keeping Mphingwe’s sawmills in operating condition, undertook to assess the damage and see what could be done.

That took care of the rest of the planned trip for George and myself, as the group was due to travel to Zimbabwe on Monday and we were not sure how and when the vehicle would be repaired or how we would get back home, all of 1500 kms away.

Part 4 will conclude this particular trip story – will we make it back home? Tune in next time to find out.

Map of the route

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Mozambique Birding Trip : Mostly Magical (Part 2)

The Trip so far

We had set out to cover some of the best summer birding spots of southern Mozambique during the first part of a planned 15 day birding trip and, in the 3 days covered by Part 1, we had already seen a lot of special birds. This Part 2 takes us back to Panda area to continue the search for Green Tinkerbird, then we continue northwards to Inhassoro and Beira, where we focus on the Rio Savane area.

The Group

Etienne Marais (Indicator Birding : http://birding.co.za ), our group leader and guide for the trip, with his passengers Corné Rautenbach, Edith Oosthuizen and Bruce Dyer who had all flown up from Cape Town for the trip, Owen and Sue Oertli from Johannesburg, Neithard and Katharina Graf von Durkheim from Pretoria, Myself (also Pretoria) and George Skinner (Johannesburg, but at the time I write this has “emigrated” to Dullstroom).

In describing the trip I have again borrowed from the itinerary which Etienne had drawn up and distributed prior to the trip and which sets it out nicely on a day by day basis ……….

Day 4 Morrongulo to Inhassoro

“We bird the area west of Unguane, The area is a type of coastal scrub-thicket with emergent larger trees here and there. …..the mega here is the Green Tinkerbird and we hope to encounter this bird in the thickets which are criss-crossed by small tracks. Once we have had success we head northwards…….

Overnight : Complexa Turistico Seta, Inhassoro”

A crack-of-dawn getaway saw us heading back to the Tinkerbird area at 5.15 am and an hour later we were in the same spot as the previous afternoon, where we recommenced the search.

Panda Woodland
Panda Woodland
Panda Woodland
Panda Woodland
Panda Woodland
Panda Woodland

At first it seemed as if it was going to be easy as the Tinkerbird was calling at regular intervals and sounded as if it was nearby, but as it turned out we chased it in circles in the hot humid thickets for quite a while until a shout from Etienne – “there it is!” – told us we had struck gold – or in this case green, in the form of Green Tinkerbird.

Green Tinkerbird (from a distance, wish I had a better photo)
Green Tinkerbird (from a distance, wish I had a better photo)

The precious bird thankfully perched for a few minutes, fully exposed on top of a dead tree, affording all of us excellent views through the scope, but just too far for a decent photo. It continued its trilling call, its whole body seeming to shake in unison with the call, as we made high-fives all round in celebration of this mega-tick of a bird (although if truth be told it is quite drab), which was only rediscovered some 2 years ago after being lost to the Southern African region for many years.

With the pressure of finding the Tinkerbird now off, we proceeded to bird the surrounding area thoroughly and made several stops to walk the tracks and bush, each of which produced notable sightings, such as –

  • Both species of Spinetail – Mottled and Bohm’s (think Peter Sellers/Inspector Closeau’s pronunciation of “bombs” which comes out sounding like “berms”) in numbers in an area with Baobab trees, one of which was clearly used as a roost by the Spinetails as they flew in and out of the hollow centre while we stood there watching
Mottled Spinetail. Not a great photo but they are very difficult to photograph, flying fast and turning unexpectedly
Mottled Spinetail. Not a great photo but they are very difficult to photograph, flying fast and turning unexpectedly
Bohm's Spinetail
Bohm’s Spinetail – showing off its bat-like appearance
  • Woodward’s Batis calling vigorously and moving about in the bush (lifer)
  • Almost constant calls of Purple-crested Turaco, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird and Emerald-spotted Wood-Dove ringing through the bush
  • The mournful call of a Grey-headed Bush-Shrike, spooky in the distance
  • Livingstone’s Flycatcher showing briefly in the foliage of the taller bushes (another lifer)
  • Marsh Warbler calling and showing in low bushes
  • A pair of Mosque Swallows circling above a clearing – they are also birds often associated with Baobab trees
  • African Cuckoo perching in the “Tinkerbird tree” for a minute or two, prompting discussion about the differences between it and the almost identical looking Common (European) Cuckoo (more yellow in upper mandible was mentioned)
African Cuckoo. Another fuzzy photo - also taken from a distance
African Cuckoo. Another fuzzy photo – also taken from a distance
  • A lone Honey Buzzard cruising high in the sky, accompanied by a Wahlberg’s Eagle, distinctive with its long straight tail and dark colouring
  • Several other significant birds such as Pale Flycatcher, Trumpeter Hornbill, Broad-billed Roller, Square-tailed Drongo, House Martin, Black-bellied Starling and Rudd’s Apalis showed just how rich in bird life this area is

On this trip we had a couple of the group, including myself, who were on the lookout for interesting insects, butterflies and the like and the pickings were rich – some examples :

Red-tip female
Red-tip Butterfly (female)
Locust - very well disguised (clue - it's on the left)
Locust – very well disguised (clue – it’s on the left)
Photographing the locust
Photographing the locust
Golden Orb Spider
Golden Orb Spider
Buxton's Hairstreak. Hair tails are used to deceive predators (see where it's actual front end is)
Buxton’s Hairstreak Butterfly. Hair tails are used to deceive predators (see where it’s actual front end is ?)
Caterpillar
Caterpillar
Golden Orb Spider
Golden Orb Spider

We also came across a small village in the middle of the bush – seemingly deserted but probably because it was a Sunday.

Village
Village
Village
Village
Village
Village
Village in Panda Woodland - we could not work out what these structures were for
Village in Panda Woodland – we could not work out what these structures were for

We eventually left this special area by late morning and headed back along the, by now, familiar track and once on the tarred EN1 we pointed our vehicles in the direction of Inhassoro, north-east from that point. Stops for lunch and fuel were made along the way before arriving at the Seta beach resort for our next overnight stop.

Complexo Turistico Seta, Inhassoro

The beach at Inhassoro
The beach at Inhassoro

George and I proceeded to the open deck for a cold beer where we had a view of the local fishing activities, with men going out in handmade boats, which on closer inspection were nothing more than polystyrene foam bottoms clad in rough planks, but the sea was calm and they were bringing in small catches so they obviously do the job. All that remained was the evening meal with the usual limited but tasty choice (fish, chicken or calamari) and calling up the day’s list.

The beach, Inhassoro
The beach, Inhassoro
Inhassoro - home made fisherman's boats (Photo ; George Skinner)
Inhassoro – home made fisherman’s boats (Photo ; George Skinner)
Complexo Turistico Seta, Inhassoro
Complexo Turistico Seta, Inhassoro

A little misunderstanding, when I went to tell the “management” (one man hovering around reception) that we had no water in the bathroom, led to George being locked out when, unbeknown to me, he sought shower facilities elsewhere and he ended up coming to fetch the key at the restaurant in a partially clothed state, but still decent. Sorry George! Hey, these things happen.

Day 5 Inhassoro to Beira

“Morning birding in the Inhassoro area. We then take the moderate drive to Beira. There will be plenty of opportunities to bird along the way. In particular the Buzi River bridge is an excellent spot for swifts and raptors. The road takes us through a variety of habitats and at this time of year one may also see temporary wetlands along the way. At Inchope we turn left and head back east towards Beira. As we approach the Pungwe floodplain, wetland birding can be spectacular.

Overnight : Jardim de Velas guest house.”

An early breakfast had been arranged for around 6 am, by which time we were more or less packed. Early additions to our list were a Common Sandpiper, cheekily perched on a small boat offshore and a Swift Tern flying by, while one of the trees in the gardens was alive with Village Weavers.

Complexo Turistico Seta, Inhassoro
Complexo Turistico Seta, Inhassoro
Early morning coffee at Inhassoro (Photo : Corne Rautenbach)
Early morning coffee at Inhassoro (Photo : Corne Rautenbach)
Neithard and Katherina, Inhassoro (Photo : Corne Rautenbach)
Neithard and Katherina, Inhassoro (Photo : Corne Rautenbach)
Dedicated birders - Don and Bruce, Inhassoro (Photo : Corne Rautenbach)
Dedicated birders – Don and Bruce, Inhassoro (Photo : Corne Rautenbach)

After breakfast on the deck, overlooking a smooth glassy sea dotted with the home-made boats of the fishermen who were already going about their day’s business, we loaded up the vehicles and headed for the village ATM to draw cash, then on to the road out of Inhassoro.

On the way out a White-throated Swallow caught our eye, perched on the roof of an industrial building and a little further on we came across our first Striped Kingfisher and a Village Indigobird, while a short stop at a roadside quarry added Magpie Mannikin, Red-faced Crombec and Little Bee-eater.

Village Indigobird, Inhassoro
Village Indigobird, Inhassoro
Pied Mannikin, Inhassoro
Pied Mannikin, Inhassoro
Neithard, Kathrin, Etienne and Edith at the quarry outside Inhassoro (Looks a bit "See no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil")
Neithard, Kathrin, Etienne and Edith at the quarry outside Inhassoro (Looks a bit “See no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil”)

Further brief stops were made to break the journey and add to the group list :

  • At a bridge over a reed-lined river, which produced a number of Red-headed Quelea, first for the trip and a lifer for a few of us (me included). Close by a Yellow-throated Longclaw was calling loudly, seeming to be indignant about our presence
Red-headed Quelea, Inhassoro
Red-headed Quelea, Inhassoro
Yellow-throated Longclaw, outside Inhassoro
Yellow-throated Longclaw, outside Inhassoro
  • A woodland area which appears in the “Birding Spots” book but is now under severe pressure from charcoal makers who burn the trees to make charcoal, which apparently goes to Europe
  • Lunchtime stop in dense woodland, which was alive with bird life to entertain us as we enjoyed snacks and coffee
    • Paradise Flycatcher servicing a nest
    • Red-faced Cisticola calling stridently
    • Black Cuckoo, mournful as usual
    • Red-winged Warbler, called up by Etienne, which responded by flying back and forth and perching for good views (both ways – him of us, us of him) and to add to my list of lifers
    • Purple-crested Turaco showing nicely in the trees
  • Brief stop alongside the busy EN6 to view African Openbills and an African Marsh Harrier
  • Ponds close to Beira which held Pygmy Goose, White-backed Duck and Spur-winged Goose, albeit difficult to see against the late afternoon sun.

The road was challenging with long stretches of heavily potholed tarmac, so it was a rock and roll affair as I tried to choose the right line to avoid the worst potholes. We passed through a few typical villages along the way

Village scene, Inhassoro - Beira road
Village scene, Inhassoro – Beira road

We reached Beira after 6 pm and soon thereafter left for dinner at Club Nautica, where we had a very acceptable meal with a view of the beach and sea.

Day 6 Rio Savane area

“We have a full day in the Rio Savane area. There are a number of good areas for birding and some of the time it will involve walking in short grassland in the Rio Savane floodplain. Our focus will be on the more difficult birds… Woodland patches on the floodplain hold all sorts of surprises…..

Picture the scene – Four SUV’s arrive at a pristine floodplain, with varying lengths of short-ish grass in a myriad shades of green, stretching for kilometres, punctuated by clusters of trees forming mini-woodlands. Ten people alight from the vehicles, don hats and apply sunscreen to exposed flesh, while a couple of the group pull a long, heavy-looking rope out of a box.

After some instructions from the one who appears to be the leader, they start shouting in loud voices and then four of the group grab the rope and start walking across the floodplain in line abreast, leaving the rope slack between them so that it drags across the clumps and tufts of grass. Even though it is hardly 6 am and the sun has still to gather its full strength, it is soon clear that those dragging the rope, and indeed the remaining six who are doing their best to stay close behind them, are sweating profusely in the extreme humidity.

Nevertheless they carry on across the floodplain until someone gives a tentative shout as instructed by the leader and the whole group stops, pulls up binoculars to their eyes and almost in unison start babbling strange names such as “Black-rumped Buttonquail” or “Great Snipe”. After a few sweeps of the floodplain they all walk rather slowly back to the vehicles and after a while drive off, only to repeat the whole scenario in the next floodplain they come across.

What on earth are they up to? Well, they are trying to “flush” (ie encourage to fly up) certain birds which spend their whole life in floodplains such as these, often tiny birds which find safety in being extremely hard to find (and identify) unless you can get them to rise up out of the concealing grasses and fly for a distance. And this is where the rope comes in – it’s not enough to walk the floodplain and hope these elusive birds will flush – most will only do so if the rope is about to roll over them or one of the walkers is about to step on them.

This was our mission – find some of the really “hard to get” species, including Black-rumped Buttonquail, Blue Quail, Locust Finch amongst others. Unfortunately we dipped on the latter two despite a number of attempts at 3 or 4 different spots, but the Buttonquail flushed three times and a Great Snipe suddenly burst from the wet grass, flew a few hundred metres before disappearing out of range. A pair of elegant yet colourful Saddle-billed Storks mostly ignored our doings as they foraged in longer grass.

Don and Etienne at Rio Savane (Photo : Corne Rautenbach)
Don and Etienne at Rio Savane (Photo : Corne Rautenbach)
Rio Savane
Rio Savane
The rope trick, Rio Savane (Photo : Corne Rautenbach)
The rope trick, Rio Savane (Photo : Corne Rautenbach)
Rio Savane (Photo ; George Skinner)
Rio Savane (Photo ; George Skinner)

On the way to the floodplain and back, we made a few birding stops alongside the dirt road, which we shared with the ubiquitous cyclists on their old-fashioned Raleighs (or the modern Chinese equivalent) carrying their heavy loads of charcoal. Sightings included Copper Sunbird, African Fish Eagle, several African Marsh Harriers and as many Black-chested Snake-Eagles.

A breakfast break in a copse of trees provided a welcome break from the hot sun and was enlivened by the arrival of Pale Batis flitting about in the canopy.

Rio Savane
Breakfast spot at Rio Savane
Rio Savane
Rio Savane
Pale Batis, Rio Savane
Pale Batis, Rio Savane

By now it was late morning and, drained by the heat, we made our way slowly back to the guest house, stopping at a known Lesser Seedcracker spot but with no luck. After a “lunch and relax” break we set out for the Rio Maria area where Etienne showed us a small dam with some interesting bird life present, such as Pygmy Goose, Malachite Kingfisher and a lone but exciting Lesser Jacana.

Rio Maria Beira
Rio Maria Beira
Lesser Jacana, Rio Maria Beira
Lesser Jacana, Rio Maria Beira

Also drawing our attention was a large, plain warbler, spotted by George moving about in the low branches just above the water (the bird, not George), which we could not ID with any certainty – Etienne, probably the best person to ID a Warbler in Southern Africa, had gone around to the back of the dam to try to flush a Nightjar for us. I took some photos of this mysterious Warbler, which turned out to be fortunate as Etienne later confirmed that it was a Basra Reed-Warbler, one of the mega-ticks for Southern Africa and a THS bird.

Basra Reed Warbler, Rio Maria Beira
Basra Reed Warbler, Rio Maria Beira

This was a lifer for all of those that saw it, including Bruce Dyer, taking him to 888 for his Southern Africa list! Not in my wildest dreams did I imagine seeing this bird, one which experienced birders refer to in hushed tones. Sensational stuff!

Next stop Mphingwe and the delights of the lowland forests…… (Part 3 to follow)

Map of the route

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Mozambique Birding Trip : Mostly Magical (Part 1)

The Planning

This trip was a long time coming – George Skinner, my longstanding friend, with whom I have enjoyed some memorable birding trips and moments, had been nudging me in the direction of Mozambique for a couple of years, but circumstances had not allowed me to join him on one of these trips. Then in late 2014, George passed on details of a trip on offer in early February 2015 by Indicator Birding, which would cover some of the best summer birding spots of southern Mozambique – it looked very tempting and after “clearance for take off” from my dear wife Gerda, it was game on.

The trip was due to start on Thursday 29th January 2015, so we returned from our annual long stay in Mossel Bay a little earlier than planned, to allow time to see to some work commitments (yes, I actually do some consulting work in between birding and blogging) and make the necessary preparations for the trip, which included making sure my vehicle was in good shape for approximately 5000 kms of driving in conditions which at that stage were unknown to me, but bound to be challenging in places (little did I know what was in store).

And so the day arrived for departure, the VW Touareg was loaded with the necessities for a road trip of 15 days – an all-important  fridge for cold water and other drinks, a crate full of breakfast, lunch and in-between snacks and  goodies, a nifty little gas stove for preparing boiling water for tea and coffee, a few bottles of good wine stuck into various available corners of the load space and, of course, a bag full of bush clothes and all the other paraphernalia that goes with a trip dedicated to birding – books, cameras, spotting scope, etc. Dinners were planned to be taken at restaurants at or near our overnight stops, which was a good way to avoid having to take even more self-catering equipment and food and gave us more time for bird watching until dusk, without having to rush back and prepare meals.

I had a “Dr Livingstone goes into darkest Africa” feeling about the trip prior to departure – a country I had not visited before, news headlines of the recent flooding in parts of Moz (although we were assured it was all north of the Zambezi where we would not be going), the stories of corrupt and aggressive border officials that constantly do the rounds, etc – but nothing was going to put me off at this stage.

Etienne Marais (Indicator Birding : http://birding.co.za ), our group leader and guide for the trip, had proposed meeting at Milly’s near Machadadorp, for breakfast and introductions to the other group members, which we duly did, reaching this popular roadside stop at 7 am. There we met the group which was spread over four vehicles – Etienne with his passengers Corné Rautenbach, Edith Oosthuizen and Bruce Dyer who had all flown up from Cape Town for the trip, Owen and Sue Oertli from Johannesburg, Neithard and Katharina Graf von Durkheim from Pretoria, Myself (also Pretoria) and George Skinner (Johannesburg, but at the time I write this has “emigrated” to Dullstroom).

In describing the trip I have borrowed from the itinerary which Etienne had drawn up and distributed prior to the trip and which sets it out nicely on a day by day basis ……….

Day 1 RSA to Xai-Xai

“After meeting early morning we drive up to Xai-Xai and stay at Honeypot camp. This gives us easy access to the superb Limpopo floodplain nearby”

After breakfast at Milly’s we headed off in convoy towards the Lebombo border post, stopping just short of it to fill up with fuel and change some of our Rands to Meticals. We approached the Moz side of the border with some apprehension, having heard so many stories, but in the end it all went smoothly and we studiously ignored the many “helpers” and touts who pester you from the moment you enter the border post area.

We had made good time and were through the border formalities by 12 noon, but from there it was slower going, especially once we got to the “bypass” (a euphemism if there ever was one) around Maputo which is still under construction and only partly complete, so we had to negotiate the incomplete sections along atrocious dirt roads clogged with traffic. The rest of the trip was through beautiful countryside interrupted only by small typically African towns.

Outskirts of Maputo - on the way to Xai-Xai
Outskirts of Maputo – on the way to Xai-Xai

Not much birding was done, but we did stop to view both European and African Hobby in the same trees, just outside the town of Macia.

Eurasian Hobby, Macia
Eurasian Hobby, Macia

We reached Honeypot camp just outside Xai-Xai (non-SA readers note it’s pronounced shy-shy) at 5 pm after 12 hours on the road and celebrated with a cold local beer, which tasted especially good. A short spell of birding the camp produced the first Olive Sunbird and a Peregrine Falcon sitting high up on a radio mast, then it was supper time in the camp’s restaurant and early to bed to prepare for our first serious birding the next day.

Honeypot lodge Xai-Xai

Honeypot lodge Xai-Xai
Honeypot lodge Xai-Xai
Honeypot lodge Xai-Xai - fair warning (they had nets)
Honeypot lodge Xai-Xai – fair warning (they had nets)

Day 2 Xai-Xai to Imhambane via Panda Woodland

“Today we do a long circular route (370km) which will ensure an excellent variety of birds. Our first stop is on the wetlands of the Limpopo Floodplain. We then head across the floodplain and inland towards the Panda area. Once we have finished our woodland birding we head north to Imhambane. Overnight : Areia Branca Lodge, Barra Peninsula.”

Etienne had us up early for departure (which became the pattern for the trip) by 5am and we headed for our first stop in rainy weather at the wetlands of the Limpopo floodplain, very close to our overnight stop.

Limpopo floodplain near Xai-Xai
Early morning on the Limpopo floodplain near Xai-Xai

Very soon we were adding our first water birds of the trip, from the road that skirts the floodplain. African Openbill, African Jacana, Little Egret and Little Stint were immediately obvious in the reed-lined ponds not far from the road, while several Squacco Herons and Black-crowned Night-Herons flew by overhead in the soft, cloud-filtered morning light. A Sedge Warbler (my first lifer of the day) was heard by Etienne and made a brief appearance among the reeds, raising excitement levels as much as the early hour allowed (considering we were still coffee-deprived at that point). Fan-tailed Widowbirds flew nervously back and forth while the group scanned the wetlands and the skies for further species.

Excitement increased another notch when a Rufous-winged Cisticola was spotted and became my second lifer for the day, as it was for several of our group. Further into the wetland Common Greenshank, African Spoonbill and the colourful flash of a Malachite Kingfisher were spotted. The rain was moving in and getting increasingly heavy so we moved on to the next spot some distance along the road where we got out for a walk along a pathway that led into the wetlands and between the ponds.

We soon discovered the path was designed to attach the maximum amount of sticky cotton mud to the soles and sides of our shoes and, as the layers grew, our feet became progressively heavier and we became a little taller – no amount of shaking could get rid of it until we got back to the road and washed most of it off, using the puddles formed by the rain. The feeling was a bit like being a 4-year-old kid who tries on daddy’s shoes and clumps down the passage.

Sticky mud problem!
Sticky mud problem!

However, the muddy walk was well worthwhile, as we added several desirable species, including Hottentot Teal, White-backed Duck, African Pygmy Goose and Whiskered Tern.

The next 280kms or so was all on sandy roads and tracks, traversing “real Mozambique” – lovely green countryside with regular wetlands and stretches of Miombo woodland – parts of Mozambique that the casual tourist to this country will probably never experience, so we were pleased to be able to do so.

Our first stop after the floodplains was alongside the road to enjoy breakfast and coffee in typical bush.

Breakfast stop on the way to Panda Woodland
Breakfast stop on the way to Panda Woodland
Collared Pratincole was a welcome sighting along the road
Collared Pratincole was a welcome sighting along the road

Setting off again, it was soon time for the major excitement of the day, when Etienne stopped at a bird party amongst Acacia trees with a sprinkling of lichen (aka “Old Man’s Beard”) and we were immediately rewarded with a mega-tick  and lifer for most of us, in the form of Olive-headed Weaver, which only occurs in an isolated patch near Panda.

Olive-headed Weaver, Panda Woodland
Olive-headed Weaver, Panda Woodland

In the excitement we almost missed the rest of the bird party but soon caught up with most of them, including delights such as Neergard’s Sunbird and Red-faced Crombec. Further on we stopped in the road to view a Flappet Lark displaying energetically and a Lemon-breasted Canary was seen by some but my view was too brief and poor to make out any detail so I did not tick it at that stage.

Panda Woodland

Crowned Hornbill, Panda Woodland
Crowned Hornbill, Panda Woodland

A vlei alongside the road was an opportunity for a brief stop, but it turned out to be bone dry – this didn’t stop Bruce and Corné from finding a Reed Frog clinging to a reed, unperturbed by the sudden attention and bevy of cameras.

Dry Vlei, Panda - Inhambane road
Dry Vlei, Panda – Inhambane road
Reed Frog
Reed Frog

Our lunchtime stop was off the road along a rough track, after which we set our sights to complete the long run to Barra Peninsula, arriving after a total of almost 9 hours driving at our overnight stop at Areia Branca Lodge right on the estuary.

Barra Peninsula

Areia Branca Lodge
Areia Branca Lodge

Before settling in, we walked across the wide expanse of mudflats to view the waders present near the water’s edge and found several such as Greater Sand Plover, Ruddy Turnstone, Grey Plover, Whimbrel,  and plenty of the smaller Plovers – Common Ringed -, Kittlitz’s –  and White-fronted Plover, Sanderling and others. Our timing was a bit late for greater numbers of waders so we hoped the next day would bring more.

The mudflats, Inhambane
The mudflats, Inhambane
White-fronted Plover
White-fronted Plover
Sunset, Inhambane
Sunset, Inhambane

The evening meal was at a nearby beach restaurant – no fish available (!), but the limited choice of other dishes did the trick and the beers were good, so we left satisfied.

A feature of the trip was the “calling up” of the day’s bird list at the dinner table every evening, while we waited for our orders – a practical arrangement and one which adds greatly to the camaraderie of the group.

Day 3 Imhambane Area

“The area is best known for the numbers of shorebirds which are present in summer. We aim to bird the end of Barra Peninsula in the middle of the day. Birding is usually best at high tide (roosting sites) or in the receding tides. Fresh water wetlands may host some rarities, while bush and swamp edge birding is not too shabby. In the afternoon we take a short drive up to Morrongulo Lodge – which will serve as the springboard for a visit to the habitat where Green Tinkerbird occurs. Overnight : Morrongulo Beach Resort”

Up at 4.30am and on the mudflats of the estuary right in front of the lodge just a half hour later as it grew lighter.

Heading to the Barra mudflats (Photo : Katherina Grafin von Durkheim)
Heading to the Barra mudflats – armed but not dangerous (Photo : Katherina Grafin von Durkheim)
Checking the waders on Barra mudflats (Photo : Corne Rautenbach)
Checking the waders on Barra mudflats (Photo : Corne Rautenbach)

There was plenty of action in the shallows near the water’s edge – Lesser Crested Tern were prominent, accompanied by the waders seen yesterday afternoon, plus the likes of Curlew Sandpiper and Lesser Sand (Mongolian) Plover, a lifer for me and some of the group.

Lesser Sand Plover
Lesser Sand Plover
Ruddy Turnstone, Barra mudflats
Ruddy Turnstone, Barra mudflats

After an hour or two of superb birding we were sated and on the verge of leaving when I spotted a (very) distant Crab Plover on the far side of the estuary through the scope, which caused some excitement amongst the group as it was a lifer for most of us.

By 7 am we were done and made our way back to the lodge for breakfast and to get ready to leave, which we managed to do by 8.30am but not before viewing a Lemon-breasted Canary in the palm trees in the lodge gardens, spotted by Etienne – my third lifer for the morning and very pleasing after yesterday’s non-view plus all the times I have hoped to find one in the Pafuri area of Kruger, without success.

Before leaving the Barra Peninsula, we ventured along a track with thick sand in places, to the lighthouse and the beach below, where we encountered not a single other soul but an interesting looking Tern roost near the water’s edge a couple of hundred metres away.

Taking on thick sand on the road to the lighthouse at Barra
Taking on thick sand on the road to the lighthouse at Barra
The wide expanse of sand on Lighthouse beach Barra
The wide expanse of sand on Lighthouse beach Barra

It had been raining lightly on and off, while the temperature and humidity remained high as we approached the Terns, standing and preening in a long line 2 or 3 abreast.

Four species of Tern were evident – from small to large :

  • the cute Little Tern, looking like the baby sibling of the other Terns
  • Common Terns with black bill (some in breeding plumage with red bill and legs)
  • Lesser Crested Terns, handsome birds in their clean white and black plumage, prominent crest and orange bill
  • Swift Tern, noticeably larger than the others (Etienne called them Greater Crested Tern) with large yellow bill.

Mingling with them were Sanderling and White-fronted Plover.

Mixed Terns, Lighthouse beach Barra
Mixed Terns, Lighthouse beach Barra

Moving on, we headed back to the EN 1 and northwards, past the turn-off to our overnight stop at Morrenguro, towards the area known for the last 2 years for Green Tinkerbird. The last 10 kms were along a sandy track through bush and woodland which at times narrowed so much that the foliage brushed the car on both sides, raising a few grimaces, but after the first few squealing sounds of branch against paintwork, I resigned myself to the fact that some damage was inevitable and in any case “dis aardse goed”.

Driving a narrow track through Panda Woodland

A road through Panda Woodland
A local learns to drive a scooter
Panda Woodland
Panda Woodland

The rest of the afternoon, after a quick “in the bush” lunch, was spent trying to find, by hearing or sight, said Green Tinkerbird and we came close, having heard it at a distance, but eventually had to call it a day and head back along the track to the EN1. From there we backtracked to Morrengulo Beach Resort for supper and our overnight accommodation right on the beach – real beachcomber style with no windows and the sound of the sea to send you to sleep.

Morrongulo Beach Resort
Morrongulo Beach Resort

Dinner was crayfish, bought from vendors at Imhambane and prepared by the resort kitchen – served with chips! Not bad but rather tasteless – I think they overcooked the delicacy we entrusted to them.

Crayfish for dinner
Crayfish for dinner

Tomorrow we resume the search for Green Tinkerbird – more about that in Part 2. (This is a bit of suspense-building, just like those short films they used to show before the main feature on a Saturday morning at Scala cinema in Claremont in my distant youth – the hero is on a runaway train approaching a bridge destroyed by the baddies – will he escape in time? – come back next Saturday and find out!!)

Map of the route

IMG_0001

 

 

Kruger Park Birding – Pafuri and Punda Maria

 

Destination : Far Northern Kruger Park

We had made our usual booking for the birding weekend in Kruger Park at the end of January 2014 and were lucky to be allocated the very popular and over-subscribed Punda Maria camp event. This time we added the “Pel’s Pursuit” event, which was to be presented immediately before the birding weekend and promised to be an exciting addition to the itinerary, involving a search for the elusive Pel’s Fishing Owl, which is one of the most sought after birds in Southern Africa and one which I still wanted to add to my “Life List”.

Both events were presented by the West Rand Honorary Rangers who have made these weekends extremely popular over the years.

Joining me on this trip were George Skinner, Nick Royce and Karl Rohrs, while we also connected with Vos and Veronica Vosloo who travelled independently from Kwazulu-Natal.

Birding on the Way

After travelling the familiar route to Polokwane and Makhado, with a breakfast stop at our usual spot, we turned off towards Punda Maria and made a brief detour to Muirhead dams (turn off is at the signboard “Royal Macadamia“), a good site for Pygmy Goose – instead we found a few White-backed Ducks, almost as scarce and always a pleasing sighting.

Muirhead Dam
Muirhead Dam
White-backed Duck, Muirhead dam
White-backed Duck, Muirhead dam

Next stop was Entabeni forest a short distance from the main road (turn off at Entabeni signboard and follow the “Picnic Spot/Hikers Hut” signs), where we hoped to spot the resident Bat Hawk with the help of bird guide Samson, but this species once again eluded me, possibly being in hiding after the heavy rainstorms that preceded our visit. Nevertheless, Red-backed Mannikin was a special sighting and worth the effort. A walk through the cool forest was a welcome but brief relief from the oppressive heat and humidity we had experienced so far.

Entabeni forest - lush after good rains
Entabeni forest – lush after good rains
Insect and offspring, Entabeni forest
Insect and offspring, Entabeni forest

An hour or so later we arrived at Punda Maria gate which marked the official start of the extended weekend events. Entering Kruger Park we were soon rewarded with a soaring Tawny Eagle and the familiar summer calls of Rattling Cisticola and White-browed Scrub-Robin. High above a Martial Eagle and White-backed Vultures patrolled the skies in majestic fashion.

Little Bee-Eaters hawking insects from low branches tried to outdo their larger European Bee-Eater cousins, while a Ground Hornbill went solemnly about his business, looking like a well-dressed undertaker as he plodded through the long grass. Soon we reached Punda Maria camp, our base for the weekend, and with a couple of hours remaining before the gates closed, we drove a section of the Mahonie Loop, which produced nice sightings of Wahlberg’s Eagle, Hamerkop, Carmine Bee-Eater and three species of Flycatcher  (Pale -, Southern Black- and Marico).

Pel’s Pursuit Event – Meeting the team

Next morning started with an introduction to the Pel’s Pursuit team and short talks by Witness on Community outreach programmes, Chris Patton on “Feathers of the North” – the special birds of the Northern Kruger and Tertius Gous on bird photography techniques, all of which were interesting and informative.

The facts
The facts

The rest of the day was at leisure so we decided to do a game and birding drive to Klopperfontein followed later by an afternoon drive around the Mahonie Loop.

The Park was very lush and green and the grass extra-long following the good rains in these parts – good to see but not conducive to easy game spotting. However our priority remained seeing as many bird species as possible, which is also affected by the lush landscapes as food is readily available at all levels of the food chain in these conditions. Nevertheless there were many highlights of the day’s drives, including :

  • 2 sightings of the scarce Grey-headed Parrot and hearing their metallic-sounding calls where they had gathered in a large Baobab tree
  • Several sightings of Dusky Indigobird
  • Tropical Boubou calling not far from the camp
  • A couple of encounters with Crowned Hornbill
  • A glimpse of Arnot’s Chat in the Mopane woodland
  • Grey-hooded Kingfisher spotted twice
  • A lone African Cuckoo seen just before returning to camp
Driving the Mahonie Loop near Punda Maria
Driving the Mahonie Loop near Punda Maria
Hamerkop patiently waiting for prey - frogs etc
Hamerkop patiently waiting for prey – frogs etc
Lesser Spotted Eagle (Probable)
Lesser Spotted Eagle (Probable)
Red-backed Shrike, Summer visitor to Southern Africa from Europe
Red-backed Shrike, Summer visitor to Southern Africa from Europe

Time to Pursue Pel’s

Friday morning saw us up at crack of dawn for a 5.30 am departure, only to find rain coming down heavily, which delayed our departure until 7 am in overcast weather. Our destination was the Levuvhu River and specifically some of the places along the river known for Pel’s Fishing Owl sightings. The drive was long and bumpy in parts, getting hotter and more humid as the clouds thinned out, until we reached a spot close to the river where our walk would begin.

We set off on the walk, sticking close to the river bank where we could, diverting upwards and over koppies where the river bank petered out, sweating profusely in the oppressive heat and extreme humidity, without any sign of the Pel’s. I was atlasing as we went, relying on our ranger David’s skills at ID-ing calls when they were unfamiliar to me. Some of our group were already struggling in the hot, uncomfortable conditions, so regular stops were made for refreshments and water. All in all, we did close to 4 hours walking, which in these conditions really tested our fitness levels – thank goodness for the beautiful, dense riverine forest in places, which provided some relief from the unrelenting sun.

Fish-Eagle and Martial Eagle eye each other
Fish-Eagle and Martial Eagle eye each other
The walk
The walk
Luvuvhu River flowing strongly
Luvuvhu River flowing strongly
The long walk in hot humid conditions tapped our energy
The long walk in hot humid conditions tapped our energy

The birding was good with some memorable sightings :

  • White-throated Robin calling in the dense bush
  • Meve’s Starling showing nicely in the tops of trees
  • Good sightings of Grey-hooded Kingfisher again
  • Colourful Collared Sunbirds in the canopy of the Riverine forest
  • Tropical Boubou in the canopy
  • Black-throated Wattle-Eye responding to taped calls
  • African Harrier-Hawk circling and jousting above the river
African Harrier-Hawk cruising above the Luvuvhu River
African Harrier-Hawk cruising above the Luvuvhu River
Brown Snake-Eagle
Brown Snake-Eagle

The river was flowing fast from the rains and was a caramel colour from the stirred-up mud and silt.

The drive back to the camp was a relief for all, as we enjoyed ice-cold drinks to lessen the heat strain from the long walk. Rain started falling which brought further relief, with no complaints about getting a bit wet in the open sided vehicle.

A pity that we did not encounter the Pel’s Fishing Owl after all the effort put in – that’s how it goes with birding – nothing is guaranteed, but fortunately there is always the probability of a next time to try again.

The Birding Weekend Starts

With the Pel’s Pursuit event done and dusted, it was time to meet the rest of the participants for the “Birding Weekend” starting with a relaxed late afternoon drive, during which several species were added to our weekend list, including a European Nightjar, followed by a braai to close out the day.

Next morning, Saturday, was a complete contrast from the hot and humid conditions of Friday – we awoke to rain at 2h30 (early starts are the order of the day with these events) and were ready to leave camp by 3h15 in the relentless rain, which accompanied us all the way to the Pafuri area an hour and a quarter later. The last stretch was particularly heavy and we were all quite damp by this time, only partly protected from the weather by the leaky canvas top and sides of the safari truck.

We parked and waited under the largest tree near the bridge over the Luvuvhu River for another hour in pitch darkness, wondering what had brought us to this place at this hour in these conditions – the simple answer is a passion for birding.

Once dawn broke, we could see how strongly the river was flowing – an impressive and slightly worrying sight, knowing the extent of previous flooding.

Dawn on Luvuvhu River after heavy rain
Dawn on Luvuvhu River after heavy rain

We spent some time on the bridge, checking the bird life as best we could and making an impromptu cup of coffee to raise the spirits (ours not others) then made our way slowly to Pafuri Picnic spot, fording the deep pools of water that had formed in the dirt road.

Spectacled Weaver at his nest over the Levuvhu River
Spectacled Weaver at his nest over the Levuvhu River
White-fronted Bee-Eater
White-fronted Bee-Eater

Highlights of the Pafuri area were :

  • Eurasian Hobby perched high in a tree
  • Yellow White-Eyes moving about busily
  • Greenshank working a large puddle in the road
  • Pytilias and Firefinches in the lower stratum
Green-winged Pytilia - fairly common in the Pafuri area
Green-winged Pytilia – fairly common in the Pafuri area
Blue Waxbill bathing
Blue Waxbill bathing
Natal Spurfowl
Natal Spurfowl

From the picnic spot it was a short but wet drive to Crook’s Corner where the Limpopo was flowing powerfully, evidenced by the large tree stumps being carried along swiftly by the swollen river. We spent time there enjoying several Bee-Eaters (Blue-cheeked-, White-fronted- and Little) as well as the many birds frequenting the adjoining bush – Red-faced Cisticola looking indignant at being disturbed, Common Scimitarbill, Meve’s Starling, Village Indigobird and African Harrier-Hawk overhead.

Spider Alley

Our Ranger, Richard, then took us on the long drive to an area east of Babalala, by which time the rain had abated and our spirits were a lot higher. The lunch stop alongside a pan with Little Grebe and Red-billed Teal in residence, was made special by the knowledge that very few have the privilege of visiting this area, which is not open to the public.

Nwambiya pan
Nwambiya pan
Red-billed Teal, Nwambiya
Red-billed Teal, Nwambiya
Richard capturing the beauty of the wild flowers
Richard capturing the beauty of the wild flowers
Marabou Stork, KNP
Marabou Stork, KNP
Fawn-coloured Lark
Fawn-coloured Lark

On the way there we had some “fun” traversing a stretch which could easily be called “Golden Orb Alley” – a narrow track through the dense bush which is favoured by Golden Orb Spiders to span their webs across at regular intervals. Every few hundred metres the open safari vehicle drove right through one of these massive webs and the resident spider, caught by the canvas roof edge, would descend into the vehicle right in front of the driver and our bird expert in the passenger seat, who happened to have a “thing” about large spiders. This caused some pandemonium a few times in the front of the vehicle, but our Ranger calmly collected them as they were dangling and deposited each one outside the vehicle without even slowing down.

Driving along "Golden Orb Alley"
Driving along “Golden Orb Alley”

Soon after, we all had a turn at jumping around in our seats as swarms of thousands of “miggies” (midges) hit the open vehicle as we drove at about 40 km/h – one swarm in particular brought us to a standstill as we tumbled out of the vehicle trying to get them out of eyes, nose and ears and to brush them off our clothes, turning it into a chaotic couple of minutes. No wonder this event is billed as “extreme birding”!

However all this discomfort proved to be worthwhile when, travelling along the border with Mozambique, our guides found Rudd’s Apalis and Pink-throated Twinspot in quick succession – both much sought after birds.

Pink-throated Twinspot, Moz border KNP
Pink-throated Twinspot, Moz border KNP

Bull Elephant vs Richard

From there we headed west back to the main Kruger road to Punda Maria camp through pristine grassland, stopping to enjoy close up views of Elephants along the way, for which, it became evident, Richard had a particular respect. One lone Bull got a bit shirty (correct spelling) and showed some aggression to the metal intruder but Richard had his match, revving the engine and advancing slowly and we were happy to see the elephant back off with ears flapping.

African Elephant daring us to come closer
African Elephant daring us to come closer
African Elephant - eyeing us
African Elephant – eyeing us

The evening braai was the chance to relax after a long day’s birding – G&T never tasted so good.

Sunday morning we returned to Pretoria with good memories of a superb weekend of birding one of the top spots in Southern Africa.

And just to round off this longish post…….

Stop me if you’ve heard this one

A joke my dad used to tell came back to me today – it is a gentle Scottish one told by a gentle Scottish man :

A Glaswegian named Jock, who is not feeling well, goes to see his doctor, one Dr McIntosh, who gives him a good check and prescribes some pills which he dispenses himself and hands to the patient with the instruction to “finish the course and bring me a urine sample in the same bottle”. Jock is a little puzzled by this request because he was complaining of a severe headache, but he follows the instruction and brings the urine sample when he next visits the doctor. The doctor has another look at him and prescribes further pills, with the same instruction to bring a urine sample in the same bottle.

When Jock visits Dr McIntosh a third time he is declared fit and well. Jock is curious and asks the doctor why he asked for urine samples when he didn’t seem to refer to them at all – Dr McIntosh replied in his broad Scottish accent “Well laddie, that way you get your bottles back!”

My Birding Year 2014

At this time of year the favourite articles in newspapers and elsewhere are those looking back at the past year, covering everything from general news to politics to sport and plenty of others, so unfortunately I am following suit by looking back at my busy birding year – the good news is that, as usual, you are free to skip the boring verbiage and check out the photos, some of which you may even find of interest.

It has been a busy year for Gerda and myself from many points of view – we have never done as much travelling, both locally and internationally, as we have over the last 12 months and at times we’ve felt it was too much and decided not to be quite so ambitious in future, but it certainly made for an interesting year…….

January

The year started, as it has over the past couple of years, in Mossel Bay where we have a second home and I used the opportunity to do some quality atlasing in the Southern Cape on three separate days – 6th, 14th and 24th(“atlasing” is the recording of bird species in an area called a Pentad, defined by coordinates, about 8 x  8 kms in extent, with the data collected going to a database at the University of Cape Town). The rolling hills of the area surrounding the small town of Albertinia, just 50 kms from Mossel Bay, and further south towards Gouritzmond, were my targets over this period, as they have not been atlased very frequently to date.

Grey-headed Gull, Mossel Bay
Grey-headed Gull, Mossel Bay
Gouritz River
Gouritz River
Cape Rock Thrush, Gouritz River
Cape Rock Thrush, Gouritz River
Denham's Bustard, Albertinia
Denham’s Bustard, Albertinia

We did a quick trip to the Western Cape from the 15th to 21st, visiting the family and enjoying some diverse birding in Kommetjie, Worcester, Karoo Desert Botanical Gardens and the Hex River Valley. See my post on “Western Cape Quickie” for the details of this trip.

Kommetjie
Kommetjie
Swift Tern, Kommetjie
Swift Tern, Kommetjie
Karoo Desert Botanical Gardens, Worcester
Karoo Desert Botanical Gardens, Worcester
Southern Double-collared Sunbird, Worcester
Southern Double-collared Sunbird, Worcester
Hex River Valley
Hex River Valley

Shortly after getting back to Mossel Bay we returned home to Pretoria, over-nighting at Kuilfontein Guest farm outside Spingfontein in the Free State, which was a nice opportunity to fit in the minimum 2 hours of atlasing required for a “Full Protocol” card.

Kuilfontein, near Springfontein in the Free State
Kuilfontein, near Springfontein in the Free State

The month was concluded in grand birding style, starting on the 29th, with a trip to Punda Maria in the far north of Kruger National Park, one of the prime birding spots in South Africa, for the annual Birding weekend run by the West Rand Honorary Rangers. We combined this with the “Pel’s Pursuit” also run by the Honorary Rangers – unfortunately it did not  result in us seeing the sought after but elusive Pel’s Fishing Owl. On the way to Punda Maria we stopped at Entabeni forest to see if we could spot the Bat Hawk that frequents the area, but dipped on that one as well.

Entabeni forest
Entabeni forest
Insect and offspring, Entabeni forest
Colourful grasshopper and offspring, Entabeni forest
Punda Maria
Punda Maria
Fish-Eagle and Martial Eagle eye each other
Fish-Eagle and Martial Eagle eye each other
Walk along Luvuvhu River
Walk along Luvuvhu River
White-fronted Bee-Eater, Pafuri
White-fronted Bee-Eater, Pafuri
Limpopo River in flood at Crooks Corner
Limpopo River in flood at Crooks Corner
Green-winged Pytilia, Pafuri
Green-winged Pytilia, Pafuri
Pink-throated Twinspot, Moz border KNP
Pink-throated Twinspot, Moz border KNP
African Elephant, Punda Maria
African Elephant, Punda Maria

February

After all that hectic birding in January, February was a much quieter month, as we got back to our Pretoria routine – a couple of atlasing outings on the 11th and 22nd took me to the area around Delmas and Devon in the south-east of Gauteng, familiar territory where I have done a fair amount of atlasing previously and which always has a surprise or two.

Cape Longclaw, Devon
Cape Longclaw, Devon
Amur Falcon, Devon
Amur Falcon, Devon
Red Bishop, Devon
Red Bishop, Devon
Black-winged Pratincole, Devon
Black-winged Pratincole, Devon

March

More atlasing on the 10th and 21st, this time covering the area north-west of Potchefstroom while visiting son Stephan and family who live there, as well as the Vlaklaagte area north of Bronkhorstspruit

Vlaklaagte early morning
Vlaklaagte early morning

April

Time to travel again and we set off on an extended trip (covered in detail in my earlier posts on “Four Parks and a Wedding”) to the Southern and Eastern Cape – the places we visited and spent a few days in each were :

De Hoop Nature Reserve on the coast south of Swellendam – 10th to 13th

De Hoop NR - Koppie Alleen
De Hoop NR – Koppie Alleen
Cape Robin-Chat, De Hoop NR
Cape Robin-Chat, De Hoop NR
Puff Adder, De Hoop NR
Puff Adder, De Hoop NR
De Hoop NR - where the birds go, there I am, not far behind
De Hoop NR – where the birds go, there I am, not far behind

Camdeboo National Park on the outskirts of Graaff-Reinet – 26th to 28th

Camdeboo - Lakeview tented camp
Camdeboo – Lakeview tented camp
Karoo Scrub-Robin, Camdeboo NP
Karoo Scrub-Robin, Camdeboo NP
Pririt Batis, Camdeboo NP
Pririt Batis, Camdeboo NP
Camdeboo NP - Valley of Desolation
Camdeboo NP – Valley of Desolation

Mountain Zebra National Park near Cradock – 28th to 30th

Mountain Zebra National Park
Mountain Zebra National Park
Mountain Zebra, in the Park created for them
Mountain Zebra, in the Park created for them
Blue Crane, Mountain Zebra NP
Blue Crane, Mountain Zebra NP
Secretarybird, Mountain Zebra NP
Secretarybird, Mountain Zebra NP
White-backed Mousebird, Mountain Zebra NP
White-backed Mousebird, Mountain Zebra NP
Ground Squirrel (Xerus inauris), Mountain Zebra NP
Ground Squirrel (Xerus inauris), Mountain Zebra NP

Addo National Park an hour’s drive from Port Elizabeth – 30th to 4th May

Black-backed Jackal, Addo NP
Black-backed Jackal, Addo NP
Pale Chanting-Goshawk, Addo NP
Pale Chanting-Goshawk, Addo NP

In between we visited De Mond Nature Reserve for some estuarine birding and I spent time atlasing the Gouritzmond area including a first visit to Vöelvlei

De Mond NR
De Mond NR
Cormorants and Gulls, De Mond NR
Cormorants and Gulls, De Mond NR

May

While in Addo, I heard about a Bridled Tern at Cape Recife near Port Elizabeth and took an early morning drive on the 3rd to see if I could spot it, but it wasn’t to be seen, although it had been seen the previous day and was seen for a couple of days thereafter – luck of the draw!

Our return trip to Pretoria on the 4th meant another overnight stop opportunity to do some atlasing – this time at Oudekraal Guest farm near Bloemfontein.

Oudekraal guest farm
Oudekraal guest farm
Spike-heeled Lark nestlings, Oudekraal guest farm
Spike-heeled Lark nestlings, Oudekraal guest farm

During the rest of the month I managed to fit in a couple of days of atlasing, firstly on the 16th covering the coal mining belt around Kendal in Mpumulanga, not an attractive area but no shortage of interesting birds, then more of Potchefstroom on the 26th when we paid a short visit to Stephan and family.

Kendal Power Station
Kendal Power Station
Disused mine avenue, Kendal
Disused mine avenue, Kendal
Vlei in the mist, Potchefstroom
Vlei in the mist, Potchefstroom
White-browed Sparrow-Weaver (deformed bill), Potchefstroom
White-browed Sparrow-Weaver (deformed bill), Potchefstroom

Koos and Rianda invited us to visit Verlorenkloof resort during their timeshare week, which we did on the 30th for a couple of days, enjoying some superb mountain and forest birding

June

The 16th saw us travelling to Durban for our timeshare week at La Lucia just north of Durbs – La Lucia and the adjoining Umhlanga Rocks are good for beachfront and garden birding and I also fitted in visits to two special birding spots in Durban itself, Kenneth Stainbank Nature Reserve and Durban Bayhead Nature Reserve which adjoins and is almost part of Durban harbour, both excellent birding venues.

Rose-ringed Parakeet (Psittacula Krameri), La Lucia
Rose-ringed Parakeet (Psittacula Krameri), La Lucia
Kenneth Stainbank NR
Kenneth Stainbank NR
Collared Sunbird (Hedydipna Collaris), Kennethe Stainbank NR
Collared Sunbird (Hedydipna Collaris), Kennethe Stainbank NR
Brown Commodore (Junonia natalica natalica), Kenneth Stainbank NR
Brown Commodore (Junonia natalica natalica), Kenneth Stainbank NR
La Lucia beach
La Lucia beach
Cape Cormorant (Phalacrocorax Capensis), La Lucia
Cape Cormorant (Phalacrocorax Capensis), La Lucia
Sandwich Tern and White-breasted Cormorant, Durban Bayhead
Sandwich Tern and White-breasted Cormorant, Durban Bayhead
Black-throated Wattle-eye, Durban Bayhead mangroves
Black-throated Wattle-eye, Durban Bayhead mangroves
Durban Bayhead Nature Reserve
Durban Bayhead Nature Reserve
Durban Bayhead - boardwalk into the mangrove swamps
Durban Bayhead – boardwalk into the mangrove swamps

I closed out the month with an atlasing session around Verena which lies north-east of Bronkhorstspruit.

Misty morning, Verena
Misty morning, Verena
Coqui Francolin, Verena
Coqui Francolin, Verena
Black-shouldered Kite, Verena
Black-shouldered Kite, Verena

July

From the 5th to 11th we enjoyed a week at Sanbonani timeshare resort near Hazyview in the Mpumulanga lowveld with Stephan and family – a superb birding venue and 10 minutes away from the Kruger Park, which we visited twice during the week.

Kurrichane Thrush, Sanbonani
Kurrichane Thrush, Sanbonani
Black Cuckooshrike (Female), Sanbonani
Black Cuckooshrike (Female), Sanbonani
Rhino, Kruger NP
Rhino, Kruger NP
Little Bee-eater
Little Bee-eater
Red-billed Oxpecker, Kruger NP
Red-billed Oxpecker, Kruger NP

On the 19th I atlased in the Leandra area – scruffy in parts but productive for birding.

Shelley's Francolin,Leandra
Shelley’s Francolin,Leandra
Spike-heeled Lark, Leandra
Spike-heeled Lark, Leandra
Country bridge, Leandra
Country bridge, Leandra

August

Our long-awaited and -planned trip to North America began on the 7th and took us to :

Calgary and the Canadian Rockies – 9th to 15th

Black-capped Chickadee, Calgary
Black-capped Chickadee, Calgary
Barn Swallow (American) , Bow Lake Alberta
Barn Swallow (American) , Bow Lake Alberta
Clark's Nutcracker, Bow Summit
Clark’s Nutcracker, Bow Summit

Seattle – 15th to 17th

Glaucous-winged Gull, Seattle
Glaucous-winged Gull, Seattle

Cruise to Alaska and the Inside Passage – 17th to 24th

Tufted Puffin, at sea - the year's highlight!
Tufted Puffin, at sea – the year’s highlight!
Black-footed Albatross, at sea
Black-footed Albatross, at sea
Bonaparte's Gull, Juneau
Bonaparte’s Gull, Juneau
Steller's Jay, Skagway
Steller’s Jay, Skagway
Tufted Puffin, Glacier Bay
Tufted Puffin, Glacier Bay
Bald Eagle, Ketchikan
Bald Eagle, Ketchikan
Glaucous-winged Gull (Juvenile), Inside Passage Alaska
Glaucous-winged Gull (Juvenile), Inside Passage Alaska

Eastern Canada – 25th to 31st

Bald Eagle, Englishtown Nova Scotia
Bald Eagle, Englishtown Nova Scotia
Cormorants, Bird Island Nova Scotia
Cormorants, Bird Island Nova Scotia

September

Continuation of our Canada trip – 1st to 6th after which we returned home

Further atlasing in the Vlaklaagte area on the 22nd and near Potchefstroom on the 29th saw out the month

Eastern Clapper Lark, Vlaklaagte
Eastern Clapper Lark, Vlaklaagte
Black-shouldered Kite, Vlaklaagte
Black-shouldered Kite, Vlaklaagte
Southern Masked-Weaver, Potch area
Southern Masked-Weaver, Potch area
Suricate family, Potch area - very curious about my movements
Suricate family, Potch area – very curious about my movements

October

Back in Potchefstroom for Stephan’s birthday, I atlased an area north-east of Potch on the 20th

Borakalalo Nature Reserve which lies north-east of Brits in the North West province (now that’s a bit confusing) was the venue for a morning’s birding on the 24th, after hearing about the presence of a Pacific Golden Plover. This time I was lucky enough to see it easily and well and celebrated by atlasing the area and enjoying a picnic with Gerda who went along for the ride.

Pacific Golden Plover, Borakalalo NR
Pacific Golden Plover, Borakalalo NR
Southern Black Tit, Borakalalo NR
Southern Black Tit, Borakalalo NR
Black-winged Stilt, Borakalalo NR
Black-winged Stilt, Borakalalo NR

Just a few days later, on the 29th, I tried for the Pectoral Sandpiper seen there during the previous few days, but dipped on this vagrant. Nevertheless I had a wonderful day of close-up birding and photography of the abundant water birds that gather there.

Three-banded Plover, Marievale Bird Sanctuary
Three-banded Plover, Marievale Bird Sanctuary
Pied Avocet, Marievale Bird Sanctuary
Pied Avocet, Marievale Bird Sanctuary
Squacco Heron, Marievale Bird Sanctuary
Squacco Heron, Marievale Bird Sanctuary
Hottentot Teal, Marievale Bird Sanctuary
Hottentot Teal, Marievale Bird Sanctuary

November

On the 7th I targeted a few pentads in the rural area near Mkhombo dam, not often visited by atlasers. The area can best be described as scruffy and arid but still produced a few surprises.

Rufous-naped Lark, Mkhombo area
Rufous-naped Lark, Mkhombo area
Great Spotted Cuckoo, Mkhombo area
Great Spotted Cuckoo, Mkhombo area
White-throated Robin-Chat, Mkhombo area
White-throated Robin-Chat, Mkhombo area

Then it was time to return to Punda Maria from the 13th to 16th for the “Punda Mania” birding event which is the 3rd one that George Skinner and I have done together and was as intense and challenging as before.

Sunset at the lek, Punda Maria
Sunset at the lek, Punda Maria
Little Swift, Luvuvhu River bridge
Little Swift, Luvuvhu River bridge
Pygmy Kingfisher looking dazed (apparently flew into the restaurant window at Punda Maria camp)
Pygmy Kingfisher looking dazed (apparently flew into the restaurant window at Punda Maria camp)
Sunrise near Punda Maria
Sunrise near Punda Maria
Pennant-winged Nightjar, Punda Maria
Pennant-winged Nightjar, Punda Maria

Straight after that Gerda and I travelled to Matekula Country Estate, which lies 35 kms beyond Machadadorp, to join Alastair and Anne plus a few friends for a couple of days at this venue.

Almost before we were ready, we found the year was rapidly running out as we packed once again for the trip down to Mossel Bay for our end-of-year long visit. On the way we stopped over at Abbotsbury Guest farm near Graaff-Reinet – a lovely place with some good Karoo birding.

Abbotsbury guest farm near Graaff-Reinet - the cottage we had for our overnight stay
Abbotsbury guest farm near Graaff-Reinet – the cottage we had for our overnight stay
Karoo choir - hey you in the second row please face the front!
Karoo choir – hey you in the second row please face the front! Let’s do Silent Night in C Sharp

December

Time for some final atlasing for the year starting with Mossel Bay itself which I do a few times while staying here. On the 5th it was the turn of Riversdale which is very poorly atlased to date and I added loads of species to the records.

Then on the 26th I atlased the area north of Albertinia which produced very good totals and some specials.

We joined Andre and Geraldine on a day trip to Calitzdorp on the 27th and I was thrilled to find a Cape Siskin in the Robinson Pass on the way there – a bird I have been trying to track down for some years and a great way to round off the year.

More of the same next year? I certainly hope so!

All the best for the New Year!

 

 

Pelagic Birding – A Bombardment of the senses

Lead up

We (Koos Pauw and myself) had planned this trip long in advance as part of our “Birding and Flowers” trip with our wives which, by the time we got to Simon’s Town, was at day 14. The original date of the trip was 31 August 2013 but was postponed to the next day due to the rough seas, following a week of stormy weather around the Cape Peninsula. My only previous trip of this kind had been in 2005 in equally stormy weather and I had memories not only of the incredible experience of seeing thousands of seabirds up close, but also of the nausea that I had to endure that whole day. So it was with somewhat mixed feelings that I anticipated this pelagic birding  trip with “Zest for Birds” out of Simon’s Town.

The Trip

We were up early and at the hotel breakfast table, which overlooks the Zest boarding spot, for a light breakfast at 6h00 with some feelings of anxiety about the day ahead, mainly due to a fear that sea-sickness would spoil the day for us.  As it turned out the medication Koos and I took was effective and made our day (well, mine at least) nausea free which was a great relief – not that the sea wasn’t rough as the Zest II rocked from side to side and back- and forwards as she rode the heavy swells and strong winds. We were soon beyond Cape Point and heading for deeper waters, with long skeins of Cape Cormorants passing the bow and stern of Zest II, making a beautiful picture in the early light, but one that would have to be in the mind as my camera was stowed below for the time being. Cape Gannets joined the Kelp and Hartlaub’s Gulls that appeared at the start of the trip and a few African Penguins eyed us curiously as they swam near the boat. Penguins are so at home swimming in the rough seas that it is sometimes hard to see them as birds.

Cape Gannet
Cape Gannet
Cape Gannet
Cape Gannet

From there on the numbers and variety of seabirds started to grow and we added Subantarctic Skua, known by its dark brown colouring with white flashes under the wings, White-chinned Petrel, Sooty Shearwater and our first Albatross of the day – a Shy Albatross which, despite its name, came in boldly close to the boat. Sudden excitement and grabbing of cameras by our contingent of guides (John Graham, Trevor Hardaker and Peter Ryan) signaled something special and we were fortunate to view a juvenile Wandering Albatross in graceful flight.

Subantarctic Skua
Subantarctic Skua
White-chinned Petrel
White-chinned Petrel
Sooty Shearwater
Sooty Shearwater

One of my favourite seabirds then came into view as a group of Wilson’s Storm Petrels approached the boat – they look so much like White-rumped Swifts that have got lost at sea, but in fact they are clearly at home in the deep waters as they skim deftly above the waves, touching the water occasionally with their lowered legs or beaks – what amazing control they have!

Wilson's Storm-Petrel
Wilson’s Storm-Petrel

Accompanying them was a Great Shearwater and several Black-browed Albatrosses, followed by many Pintado Petrels in their handsome black and white plumage and a single Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross.

Great Shearwater
Great Shearwater
Black-browed Albatross
Black-browed Albatross
Pintado Petrel showing its striking black and white plumage
Pintado Petrel showing its striking black and white plumage
Pintado Petrels
Pintado Petrels
Pintado Petrel
Pintado Petrel

Happily the next bird up was a lifer for me as a Sabine’s Gull put in an appearance and I somehow managed to lock onto it briefly in the growing melee of seabirds for a reasonable photo, followed shortly thereafter by a another special sighting of a Northern Royal Albatross as he sat in the water and then took off across the bow.

Sabine's Gull
Sabine’s Gull
Massed seabirds
Massed seabirds
Northern Royal Albatross
Northern Royal Albatross

All the while we were getting closer to the trawler which was our target for the day and the bird melee gradually grew until we were right behind the trawler and witness to a bird frenzy as all the species fought for a share of the discarded parts of the catch.

The melee behind the trawler
The melee behind the trawler
Close behind the trawler
Close behind the trawler
Even more seabirds
Even more seabirds
A ship on the high seas
A ship on the high seas

We spent some time close to the trawler, adding a few more species as our guides picked them up among the hundreds of other birds – species such as Northern Giant Petrel and Arctic Tern (another lifer for me). Once sated with the numbers and variety of birds, we headed back to Simon’s Town. Prior to docking the captain took us close to a large offshore rock which is used by Bank Cormorants to breed and roost and this was also the cue for a Southern Right Whale to greet us with a blow or two.

Bank Cormorants at their nests
Bank Cormorants at their nests
Bank Cormorants
Bank Cormorants

There is nothing quite comparable in birding to this experience – a bombardment of all your senses that leaves you elated but exhausted at the end of the day. Until next time……..

Punda Mania 2013 – Sizzling Hot Birding

About Punda Mania

Billed as a Team Birding Challenge, this is a special event for birders keen to spend time in one of the top birding spots in South Africa, at a time of year when the majority of migrants are present. Under the direction of Joe Grosel and with the assistance of the SANParks Honorary Rangers (HR’s) from the West Rand Region as well as guides from SANParks, the group of some 40 people is taken through a series of challenges which focus on birding but also include other aspects of nature such as mammals, trees, insects and the odd reptile. This was the 3rd such event and the second that I have attended and “knowing the ropes” helped to make this version even more enjoyable (for me anyway) than the previous one.

Getting There

Our group of 4 (Myself, George Skinner, Pieter Rossouw and Pieter Lombaard) left Pretoria early-ish to make sure we would be in time for the start of activities at 15h00 on Thursday 14 November 2013, with enough time for a hearty brunch at our usual stop near Polokwane, after which we turned off towards Giyani and reached Punda Maria gate by 13h30. In our air-conditioned cocoon we had noticed the temperature rising as we traveled north but only felt the 37º C  heat when we got out to stretch our legs at the gate, much  like the blanket of hot air in your face when you open a hot oven door except it envelops your whole body. From there we drove slowly to Punda Maria camp, arriving just in time for the rendezvous with the rest of our team for the weekend and the vehicle to take us to the Visitor Centre for the briefing. We joined up with 2 other couples  – Brian and Joy Falconer-Smith and Elouise and Christo Kalmer – to make up our team, the Shrewd Shrikes, and were pleased to see that Jobe, our guide from last year, was again allocated to our vehicle. William Dunn, our HR representative completed the team line-up.

The birding from the gate to the camp was slow, being the hottest time of day and we were wilting along with the animals and panting bird life that was to be seen. An African Firefinch in the low bushes, Red-billed Oxpeckers on a group of Impalas and Yellow-fronted Canary in the upper branches of a tree kept us interested.

The Challenge and first Activity

At the initial briefing, Monika O’Leary, organiser of the weekend, introduced the proceedings, then Andy Branfield described what the HR’s do with the funds generated by these events and finally Joe Grosel took us through the various habitats in this northern part of Kruger and the animal and bird species that find these habitats to their liking. The Challenge details were spelt out and, as before, points would be awarded for bird species ID’d, mammal species seen (which our team only discovered at the final dinner!) plus the treasure hunts and quizzes as well as the atlasing  and team spirit.

Visitor Centre, Punda Maria
Visitor Centre, Punda Maria
Joe and Monika at the introduction
Joe and Monika at the introduction
The Challenge
The Challenge

The drive to the Visitor Centre had produced Tawny Eagle as the bird life started to liven up. During the talks the continuous calls of Monotonous Larks and Woodland Kingfishers competed with the speakers, as if beckoning us all to “come have a look”.

Tawny Eagle
Tawny Eagle
Monotonous Lark, Punda Maria
Monotonous Lark, Punda Maria

Then it was time for the first sunset drive with the main destination being the ‘lek’ frequented by Pennant-winged Nightjars in the early summer months – we had enjoyed them on 2 occasions during the previous Punda Mania but this is not the sort of sighting you are likely to tire of. The drive was punctuated by a few good sightings such as European Golden Oriole and Great Spotted Cuckoo, a  pair of African Hawk Eagles in a treetop and a Pale Flycatcher almost hidden amongst the bushy undergrowth and trees. The only negative was the road chosen to get to the lek, supposedly a short-cut but which can best be described as abominable as we bounced over endless rocks, taking so long that we arrived with minutes to spare for the Pennant-winged Nightjar display, which was nevertheless as magical as before. Apart from the main attraction, an African Scops-Owl and Red-chested Cuckoo made themselves heard from nearby trees. A bring-and-braai back at the camp closed out the day.

Waiting for a view of Pennant-winged Nightjar
Waiting for a view of Pennant-winged Nightjar
Pennant-winged Nightjar at the lek
Pennant-winged Nightjar at the lek
Flap-necked Chameleon, Punda Maria
Flap-necked Chameleon, Punda Maria

Friday 15 November 2013

An enthusiastic Red-chested Cuckoo was already calling when our alarm went off at 03h45 and we left the camp at 04h30 as the first light of dawn approached, heading north to Pafuri in the northernmost section of Kruger. We were soon adding birds at a steady pace, but were also working at the cryptic clues for the Treasure Hunt part of the weekend, which involves taking photos of birds, animals and trees, based on solving the clues put together by Joe. At least I now have a reason for doing those cryptic crosswords, apart from keeping the mind active. It didn’t take long to resolve the clues which boiled down to 2 mammals (Nyala, Elephant) 2 Trees (Nyala Tree, Ironwood Tree) and 11 birds (from memory they were White-fronted Bee-eater, Mosque Swallow, Red-crested Korhaan, Water Thick-Knee, Meve’s Starling, Emerald-spotted Wood-Dove, Any Red Data species, Bateleur, Sabota Lark, Crested Francolin, Goliath Heron, but correct me if any are wrong) so from there on it was just a matter of finding the actual species to photograph.

Treasure hunt : Mosque Swallow, Punda Maria
Treasure hunt : Mosque Swallow, Punda Maria
Treasure hunt : Sabota Lark, Punda Maria
Treasure hunt : Sabota Lark, Punda Maria
Crested Francolin, Punda Maria
Crested Francolin, Punda Maria

The drive took us to the far north-east corner known as Crook’s Corner, where we spent some time enjoying the bird life in the Limpopo river and surrounding bush. On the way we spent quality time at Klopperfontein dams where we were able to stretch our legs and enjoy coffee, while watching the myriad Swallows, Martins and Swifts including many House Martins and a few Grey-rumped Swallows. Lark-like Buntings were moving about busily near the water and a Shaft-tailed Whydah made a brief fly-past, while Water Thick-Knees flew across low over the water. In the Pafuri area we saw our first Meve’s Starling moving amongst the low branches and higher up a Burnt-necked Eremomela worked his way through the foliage.

Klopperfontein KNP
Klopperfontein KNP
Treasure hunt : Water Thick-knee, Klopperfontein KNP
Treasure hunt : Water Thick-knee, Klopperfontein KNP

A surprise ‘sighting’ was the 4 ‘illegals’ from Mozambique that we came across near Pafuri, making their way through the Kruger on foot (one was barefoot) – they looked quite weary and despondent at being found and our guide contacted the camp to pick them up but we didn’t find out what happened to them.

'Illegals' near Pafuri
‘Illegals’ near Pafuri

The Limpopo River at Crook’s Corner had enough water to support Green-backed Heron and Pied Kingfisher as they hunted in their particular ways, while White-fronted Bee-eaters hawked insects from an overhanging dead branch. From the surrounding bush the regular calls of Orange-breasted and Grey-headed Bush-Shrikes could be heard, a Tropical Boubou made a brief appearance and Chinspot Batis, Red-billed Firefinch and Purple-crested Turaco were all welcome sightings. Overhead numbers of White-backed Vultures circled lazily and an African Cuckoo-Hawk appeared from nowhere and disappeared just as quickly

Coffe stop
Coffe stop
Crook's Corner KNP
Crook’s Corner KNP
Crook's Corner KNP
Crook’s Corner KNP
Treasure hunt : Nyala, Pafuri KNP
Treasure hunt : Nyala, Pafuri KNP
White-backed Vulture, Pafuri KNP
White-backed Vulture, Pafuri KNP

Our next stop was the Pafuri picnic spot, one of my favourite spots in Kruger, where a brunch had been set up by the busy HR’s. This was also the chance to add more species, with White-crowned Lapwing being an easy sighting in the river, Red-faced Cisticola calling from the riverine bush and an obliging Emerald-spotted Wood-Dove posing for photos meant we could tick off another on the treasure hunt list.

Back on the road we came across a lone Secretary Bird before heading back to Punda Maria – just a pity we didn’t have enough time to visit the bridge over the Luvuvhu which usually delivers a plethora of bird species, but a special sighting on the way back made up for this. Joe led us to a spot along the road, lined by tall Mopane trees, where Arnot’s Chat were known by him to breed and a brief playing of their call brought a male and female to investigate and eye us from a roadside tree, affording magical views of this sought-after bird.

Arnot's Chat (Male), Punda Maria
Arnot’s Chat (Male), Punda Maria
Arnot's Chat (Female), Punda Maria
Arnot’s Chat (Female), Punda Maria
African Buffalo, Punda Maria
African Buffalo, Punda Maria
Levaillant's Cuckoo, Punda Maria
Levaillant’s Cuckoo, Punda Maria

Then it was back to the camp to report back on our photos taken for the treasure hunt, for which we managed to get a full house. A short while later we were at it again, this time following more cryptic clues to items around the camp itself, which we completed successfully except for Passer Domesticus (House Sparrow) which we could not decipher. The Cicada was easy enough to unravel but quite difficult to find, camouflaged as it was against the bark of the Mopane trees in the camping area.

During the pursuit of the items we came across Bearded Scrub-Robin along the Flycatcher trail and spent some time at the hide overlooking a water hole just outside the camp fence, popular with everything from Elephants to Eremomelas. A Broad-billed Roller was showing off his skills as he swooped down from a nearby tree and skimmed the surface, as if showing the Bee-eaters present that he could do it just as well as them.

Burchell's Zebra, Punda Maria
Burchell’s Zebra, Punda Maria
Treasure hunt : Striped Skink, Punda Maria
Treasure hunt : Striped Skink, Punda Maria

After the report back, dinner was served followed by a short night drive, during which we added Fiery-necked Nightjar and Barred Owlet to our list.

Saturday 16 November 2013

An early start again – advisable in the extremely hot conditions. By this time we were getting accustomed to the extreme heat and the prospect of atlasing some remote areas of Kruger was something I was looking forward to – the area we were allocated to atlas turned out to be located in a little visited but beautiful part of Kruger, covering lush bushveld and riverine habitats. This, for me, was the highlight of the weekend – going down those usually forbidden roads with those no-entry signs and knowing there will be no other vehicles is part of what makes these events really special. Bird life was plentiful and the pentad list was rapidly added to in the allotted time.

The pentad list kicked off with an Eastern Nicator which made an exciting change from my usual atlasing, followed by some other specials such as Tawny Eagle, Wahlberg’s Eagle cruising above us, Green Pigeons in the taller trees and both Little and European Bee-Eaters hawking insects at low level.

A magnificent Baobab tree full of greenery was alive with birds, having a number of Red-billed Buffalo-Weavers and Red-headed Weavers using it as a nesting base. Even the arrival of a couple of Common Mynas could not spoil this classic scene.

Baobab with nests, Punda Maria
Baobab with nests, Punda Maria

The area atlased included stretches of the Levuvhu River and we made a few stops at convenient spots for walks along the river, watched by pods of Hippo in the cool waters and disturbing Green-backed Herons and Water Thick-Knees which took off and flew across to the opposite side as we progressed along the bank.

White-crowned Lapwing, Luvuvhu River
White-crowned Lapwing, Luvuvhu River
Hippo, Luvuvhu River
Hippo, Luvuvhu River
Acacia, Luvuvhu River
Sekelbos flowers, Luvuvhu River

One stop was at the temporary Nyalaland Trail camp, located at an ideal spot above the river while the flood-damaged permanent camp is under reconstruction. The river walks added Pale Flycatcher, Grey-headed Kingfisher, Malachite Kingfisher and White-crowned Lapwings amongst others, the latter calling excitedly and flying up and down the river. The bush away from the river was equally rewarding with Bennett’s Woodpecker, Striped Kingfisher and Black Cuckooshrike being some of the more notable sightings.

Allasing along the river
Allasing along the river
Levuvhu River
Levuvhu River
Gabar Goshawk, Pafuri KNP
Gabar Goshawk, Pafuri KNP
Striped Kingfisher, Punda Maria
Striped Kingfisher, Punda Maria
Grey-headed Kingfisher, Luvuvhu River
Grey-headed Kingfisher, Luvuvhu River

On the way back we heard what we thought to be Southern Hyliota calling and excitedly searched for this uncommon bird, only to find a White-browed Scrub-Robin imitating its call!

Back at the camp it was time to recharge with a nap, followed by a repeat of the late afternoon drive to the Pennant-winged Nightjar lek which was a lot more relaxed this time around.

Pennant-winged Nightjar site
Pennant-winged Nightjar site
Shrewd Shrikes
Shrewd Shrikes

Then all that remained was the dreaded Team Quiz (which again proved to be our downfall) and the final dinner and prize-giving. Oh well, there’s always the hope that the HR’s will present this event next year again, in which case the Shrewd Shrikes can have another go at improving our score.

Congrats to the West-Rand Honorary Rangers once again for presenting a really interesting and worthwhile event – long may they continue!

Thanks to Dr PeteZac Zacharias for providing the correct name for the Sekelbos (Dichrostachys cinerea) with its beautiful flowers, which I had wrong in the photo caption

Birding and Flowers Trip – Part 3 : Namaqualand and the Western Cape

The Trip (continued)

This is the follow-on to Parts 1 and 2 , which covered the first 10 days of the road trip. In this Part 3, we (Don & Gerda Reid and Koos & Rianda Pauw) tackle the last stretch of our Birding and Flowers trip, taking in more of the prime flower-spotting areas of Namaqualand and heading south to Cape Town, from where we were to start the return journey via Bontebok National Park to Mossel Bay for a longer stay at our home there, before returning to Pretoria and completing the full circle.

Day 11 (29th August 2013) :

We had arrived at De Lande guest farm, not far from Niewoudtville, the previous day and were nicely settled in the “Sinkhuisie” just a stone’s throw from the main house. After a hearty breakfast in the main house we wondered whether to venture out into the rainy weather, but having come all the way to this part of South Africa, did not want to waste the opportunity and so we set off for Papkuilsfontein some 10Km further down the gravel road. By this time it had been raining for 12 hours and the road, which unfortunately had just been scraped and leveled by the local authorities, had turned to slush and it became an anxious trip as my vehicle, a VW Touareg, slipped and slid in all directions on the greasy surface, despite being in 4 x 4 mode – something like a fried egg in a non-stick frying pan.  Mud splatter from the unavoidable pools of water obscured the windscreen and it was a battle to see where we were heading. Amazingly there were still some hardy birds about to keep our list going and make something of our bird atlasing efforts, with Southern Red Bishops , Yellow Bishops, Cape and Yellow Canaries carrying on their activities alongside the road. Under the circumstances the Touareg handled the conditions well but looked quite bedraggled when we stopped at Papkuilsfontein farm.

Papkuilsfontein, near Niewoudtville
Papkuilsfontein, near Niewoudtville
Touareg after a mudbath (find the number plate)
Touareg after a mudbath (find the number plate)

The rain had by this time abated and we had a chance to bird around the gardens, while Gerda and Rianda explored the gift shop, followed by tea and delicious cake in the “Waenhuis” restaurant where a welcome fire was blazing in the hearth.

Waenhuis restaurant at Papkuilsfontein
Rianda, Koos & Gerda at the Waenhuis restaurant at Papkuilsfontein

After some consultation with the farm owners, Willem and Mariette van Wyk, we followed their suggested route, which traverses the farm down towards the river, past the cottages which they rent out. Approaching the cottages, we were rewarded with a wonderful sight of yellow “cat’s tail”  flowers carpeting the fields, with the backdrop of the stone cottages and the ruins of an old homestead giving the scene a feeling of being in the middle of a beautiful landscape painting. Tearing ourselves away, we carried on for a few Kms into more rocky countryside with a variety of natural flowers and plants vying for attention with their range of colours and forms.

Cat's Tails flowering at Papkuilsfontein
Cat’s Tails flowering at Papkuilsfontein
Cat's Tails flowering at Papkuilsfontein
Cat’s Tails flowering at Papkuilsfontein
Papkuilsfontein
Papkuilsfontein
Flowering bush at Papkuilsfontein
Flowering bush at Papkuilsfontein
The road is aptly named when it's muddy ("Hope Lost")
The road is aptly named when it’s muddy (“Hope Lost”)

The scenery almost made us forget to do some birding for a while but we nevertheless kept at it, the highlights being an African Harrier-Hawk and our first Cape Spurfowl of the trip. The trip back to De Lande was a bit less harrowing, having now got the hang of the road conditions – however, it was getting even colder and, once back in the warm “Sinkhuisie”, we only ventured out to have dinner at the main house, which was another round of excellent “comfort cuisine” – including the best roast potatoes we’ve had in a long while.

Day 12 (30th August 2013) :

My birthday today and some surprises were in store!

We were up early to pack and load the vehicles for a quick getaway after breakfast, so that we would not be rushed on the longish drive to Simon’s Town (near Cape Town) and have time for a celebratory lunch on the West coast along the way. The temperature gauge in the car showed 3°C and a watery sun was trying its best to break through the low clouds. It was just after 8h00 when we got to the breakfast table at the main house, only to be greeted by rain which quickly turned to sleet and then, magically, it started snowing heavily. This prompted everyone in the dining room to rush out and take photos and just feel the large flakes drifting down and settling on the garden and on our clothes – a unique experience in South Africa and particularly this part, where the 27-year-old waitress informed us she had never seen snow in her life. Within 20 minutes the garden and our vehicles were covered in a layer of snow which was very photogenic, but we couldn’t help thinking of the 13Km of slushy gravel road we had to negotiate to get to the nearest tar road and wondered what added dimension the snow would bring to the experience.

Snow just starting to fall at De Lande
Snow just starting to fall at De Lande
Snow scenes at De Lande Guest Farm
Snow scenes at De Lande Guest Farm
Snow scenes at De Lande - Koos's vehicle
Snow scenes at De Lande – Koos’s vehicle
Snow scenes at De Lande - Don's vehicle
Snow scenes at De Lande – Don’s vehicle
Snow scenes at De Lande
Snow scenes at De Lande
Snow scenes at De Lande
Snow scenes at De Lande
Snow scenes at De Lande
Snow scenes at De Lande

We had breakfast a little faster than usual, stopping just short of gulping it down, then set off with some trepidation along the, by now, very slippery road with snow falling and our windscreen wipers trying to keep our windscreens clear, while we studiously followed the ruts left by earlier vehicles as we had been advised. Snow buildup on the car’s roof cascaded over the windscreen each time I braked and we took it very slowly to avoid a mishap. We made it to Niewoudtville without incident, found a toilet in the local tourist centre and set off on the rest of our journey. In the fields, the cattle and sheep had a layer of snow on their backs and even a group of Blue Cranes were sprinkled with snow. The snow interspersed with rain continued all the way to Vanrhynsdorp and only abated as we turned back onto the N7 heading south towards Cape Town. At Clanwilliam we followed the directions given by the chef at De Lande and took the road west to get us to our planned lunch venue at Paternoster.

It turned out to be a good choice of route as we soon saw the coast and followed the road south, bypassing the coastal towns of Elands Bay, Dwarskersbos (no idea where that name comes from) and Velddrif. A few tempting bodies of water, such as Verlorevlei and Berg River estuary, caught our eye but there was not enough time to stop and explore, so we had to be satisfied with some snatched sightings as we went past. Lunch at Voorstrandt restaurant in Paternoster was a pleasant interlude and we enjoyed the fish on offer, so much so that one of our group (who shall remain nameless) had fish for dessert as well! From Paternoster we returned to the main road for the last stretch into Cape Town and through peak hour traffic to Simon’s Town for our 3 night stay at the Quayside Hotel, which we were pleased to find has large comfortable rooms and wonderful views over the harbour and the bay beyond. The reception staff didn’t bat an eyelid at the amount of baggage they had to cart up the stairs including our portable freezer/fridge, which was fortunately a lot lighter than when we started. By this time we were “plain tuckered out” and after a light meal in the nearby restaurant, we were glad to get some rest.

Simon's Town
View from the hotel at Simon’s Town

Day 13 (31st August 2013) :

The pelagic (deep-sea birding) trip we had planned and booked for today was postponed to the next day, Sunday, due to the stormy weather in the Cape and so we decided to brave the cold-ish weather and threatening rain by going to Kirstenbosch, the world-famous (and rightly so) Botanical Gardens which lie on the lower eastern slopes of Table Mountain. The road from Simon’s Town to Kirstenbosch winds along the coast initially and we could see that the sea was rough, which did not bode well for the pelagic trip the next day, however we focused on the day’s mission which was to cover as much of Kirstenbosch as we could, recording the species for our next bird atlas cards.

First stop was the famous tea room for traditional (in our family) tea and scones, which were as good as ever, while the others enjoyed various items from the menu. Memories of my childhood outings to Kirstenbosch, some 50+ years ago came flooding back and I couldn’t help reminiscing about our mother, who always enjoyed her Kirstenbosch outings, and her last trip to have her ashes spread in the upper gardens. Well satisfied with our scones and tea/other good things. we set off for a walk up the gardens which were as magnificent as ever and alive with Sunbirds, (Southern Double-collared and Malachite), Cape Robin-Chats in every second bush, Canaries in song (Cape and Forest), Cape White-eyes busily flitting about in the upper branches and Karoo Prinias making themselves heard on the tops of bushes.

Protea at Kirstenbosch
Protea at Kirstenbosch
Southern Double-collared Sunbird, Kirstenbosch
Southern Double-collared Sunbird, Kirstenbosch
Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens
Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens
Protea, Kirstenbosch
Protea, Kirstenbosch
Pincushion, Kirstenbosch
Pincushion, Kirstenbosch

In the more forested areas Sombre Bulbuls were announcing their presence with their loud sharp calls while keeping hidden from view and Cape Batis appeared fleetingly among the foliage. A special sighting was a large Spotted Eagle-Owl, pointed out to us by another group, which had taken up a position in a large tree and looked about imperiously, ignoring the excited chatter of the smaller birds which were in a mild state of frenzy.

Spotted Eagle-Owl, Kirstenbosch
Spotted Eagle-Owl, Kirstenbosch
Olive Thrush, Kirstenbosch
Olive Thrush, Kirstenbosch
Kirstenbosch, Cape Town
Kirstenbosch, Cape Town

Of course Kirstenbosch is about the flora and at this time of year in particular the pincushions are in full bloom, giving a spectacular and colourful display of the different varieties.

Pincushions, Kirstenbosch
Pincushions, Kirstenbosch
Pincushion, Kirstenbosch
Pincushion, Kirstenbosch
Kirstenbosch, Cape Town
Kirstenbosch, Cape Town

After a lengthy walk and a good cup of coffee, we took the “long way home” back to Simon’s Town, via Hout Bay and along the Atlantic seaboard into town, then through the southern suburbs to Muizenberg and Fish Hoek, eventually arriving at our hotel in time for dinner.

Day 14 (1st September 2013) :

We were up early for breakfast at 6am before heading to the pier just below our hotel, where we were to meet the Zest for Birds team ahead of the pelagic birding trip into the deep waters south of the Cape Peninsula. This is deserving of its own posting so I won’t cover it here except to say that it was a spectacular trip with some amazing sightings. We left just after 7am and returned around 4pm, by which time we were quite exhausted from the intensity of the whole experience and the rough weather and sea conditions – we had just enough energy to drag ourselves to the nearby restaurant before collapsing in bed. There is nothing comparable in birding to this experience – a bombardment of all your senses that leaves you elated but exhausted at the end of the day. A small sampling of photos from the day are included here.

Pelagic birding trip
Pelagic birding trip
Shy Albatross, Pelagic Trip
Shy Albatross, Pelagic Trip
Pintado Petrel, Pelagic Trip
Pintado Petrel, Pelagic Trip

Day 15 (2nd September 2013) :

Time to move on to our next and final stopover before Mossel Bay – the Bontebok National Park near Swellendam, an easy 2 to 3 hours drive from Cape Town. We enjoyed a late breakfast in the hotel, greeted the genuinely friendly staff of the Quayside Hotel and were on our way. I stopped at Fish Hoek to get the wheels cleaned of the dried mud, collected during our trip to Papkuilsfontein,  which was causing severe imbalance at speed and was happy that cleaning the wheels made all the difference.

After yesterday’s rough and windy seas, today was the complete opposite and I couldn’t help wishing we had been blessed with this weather for the pelagic trip – hopefully next time? By the time we reached Houw Hoek pass it was lunchtime and it was an easy decision to stop at the roadside farmstall for a simple but delicious lunch with good coffee. From there it was a short hop to Swellendam and the nearby Bontebok National Park – on the way in a Dusky Indigobird caught my eye where it sat on the roadside wire – an unusual sighting for the area which produced an “Out of Range” form when I later submitted the atlas card. Further on a Black Harrier flew low over the scrub as we approached the park reception. After checking in we proceeded to the riverside chalets for a 2 night stay – the wooden chalets are set on a bend in the Breede River which was in flood from the recent heavy rain and snow in the catchment area and it stayed that way during our stay. The partly submerged trees and pathways were an indication of just how high the river was compared to its normal state.