Fire Lily

Nature is full of surprises – more so when you come across something amazing when you least expect it. We were on a holiday season outing from Mossel Bay with friends Koos and Rianda, which included a lunch at one of our favourite spots – Eight Bells Mountain Inn. This is an old-fashioned family resort located in the lower part of the Robinson Pass between Mossel Bay and Oudtshoorn, with well-developed gardens and a very peaceful ambience.

After a filling lunch of Ostrich burgers and apple pie, we ventured further up the pass, stopping at a few spots where the gravel shoulder widens to allow you to pull off and enjoy the views across the hills and down to the coast in the distance. At each stop we checked the surroundings for any sign of bird life, hoping for some of the special species that inhabit the mountain slopes, but were a little disappointed to find very few birds.

At the last stop before turning around to head back down the pass, we had a good look around and found a few birds but nothing too unusual. However, while scanning the lower mountain slopes in the distance, I noticed what looked like red flowers standing out against the green growth and my binoculars confirmed this.

We just could not resist getting closer for a better view and perhaps a photo, even though we had only our cellphones with us, so Koos and I set out across the slopes through the low bush, more or less following the path of the baboons we had seen a few minutes earlier. The results of this effort were certainly worth thetrouble as we reached the first of the flowers – bright red in colour and beautifully shaped.

Later, Gerda consulted her fynbos books and was able to identify the plant species as one of the Fire Lilies – so called due to their rapid flowering response to natural bush fires. This particular plant species is commonly known as the George Lily (Cyrtanthus elatus) with a limited natural distribution along the southern coast of the Western Cape, but is now grown world-wide for its cut flowers.

So here’s a photo or two – one of the flower and one of the incredible view from the same spot.

The view with Mossel Bay in the distance

As a bonus we found the sought after Victorin’s Warbler at a spot further down the pass, the same place where I have found it on two previous occasions. As usual, it played hide-and-seek amongst the bushes while calling loudly and constantly, frustrating our attempts to get a decent view of the bird despite being about 3 metres away from us!

West Coast National Park – Day Visit

During a recent visit to the Cape Town area we took the opportunity to spend a day out with Johan and Rosa (Gerda’s sister) during which we travelled firstly to Bloubergstrand, then further west to the West Coast National Park.

Blouberg proved to be a good choice for an alfresco mid-morning tea accompanied by scones (rather dry ones) with a view of the beautiful bay and beyond to Table Mountain in the distance. We had fortunately chosen a perfect day for it – sunny but not too hot with a slight breeze. So nice to see the bay after many years.

Bloubergstrand on a perfect day

Leaving Bloubergstrand behind, we proceeded at a gentle pace to the entrance gate to the West Coast National Park, an hour or so up the coast. The drive from the gate to the restaurant at Geelbek was punctuated by some stops for light birding.

Roberts Birding app describes the reserve’s habitat as follows – “The reserve comprises large areas of coastal strandveld and a large tidal lagoon, with extensive tidal mudflats, saltmarsh and reedbeds.”

After a lazy lunch at an outside table, I took a walk to the nearby bird hide, with its views across the mudflats and the vast lagoon, while the others sat in the car under a shady tree and chatted. Also chatting loudly was a Yellow-billed Kite in the tree above the car, with a bevy of smaller birds responding in kind.

Yellow-billed Kite (Milvus parasitus / Geelbekwou)

I didn’t want to leave them for too long, so I spent about 40 minutes walking to the hide and back along the raised boardwalk – hardly enough time to do justice to this exceptional birding spot but I managed to see and photograph a surprising number of wader and other species in this short time.

West Coast NP – the boardwalk to the Geelbek hide

Flamingoes were plentiful, with both Greater and Lesser species being well represented.

Other prominent waders included Black-winged Stilt, the beautifully delicate Pied Avocet, Kittlitz’s Plover, Little Stint, Ruff, Grey Plover, Common Greenshank, Whimbrel and Curlew Sandpiper. Those I managed to photograph are the following –

Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus / Rooipootelsie), West Coast NP
Pied Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta / Bontelsie), West Coast NP
Kittlitz’s Plover (Charadrius pecuarius / Geelborsstrandkiewiet), West Coast NP
Little Stint (Calidris minuta / Kleinstrandloper), West Coast NP
Grey Plover (Pluvialis squatarola / Grysstrandkiewiet), West Coast NP
Curlew Sandpiper (Calidris ferruginea / Krombekstrandloper), West Coast NP

A pair of Cape Teals with their dark pink bills huddled at the edge of the marshes.

Cape Teal (Anas capensis / Teeleend)

At the hide itself, many more flamingoes were visible along with some of the same waders, while a couple of Greater Crested Terns flew past low and slow in their customary manner.

West Coast NP – the view from the hide
Greater Crested (Swift) Tern (Thalasseus bergii / Geelbeksterretjie)

With my birding itch satsified by this quick fix, we headed slowly to the secondary gate on the Langebaan side, hoping for a sighting of some game, which had eluded us so far. Not far from the exit gate we came across a herd of handsome Eland

Eland, West Coast NP

All in all a day well enjoyed!

Klein Karoo Weekend

Sometimes less is more – less planning, less time away, definitely means less stress – our recent, unplanned visit to an eco-estate near Calitzdorp in the arid Klein Karoo falls into that category. Our daughter and son-in-law have a delightful cottage set on the slopes of the kloof that runs through the estate, which they use for getaway weekends and we were more than happy to join them on a weekend in September.

We were up at 5 am on the Saturday morning and left Mossel Bay before 7 am, reaching our roadside coffee spot on the Volmoed road about an hour later. No ordinary stop this – even along the road the Karoo invites you to relax, and relax we did with plunger coffee, boiled eggs and muffins while enjoying the Karoo landscape around us, watched over by Greater Striped Swallows perched nearby and with cool sunny weather adding to the pleasure of the moment.

Coffee stop
Saartjie, the family pet, gets a chance to explore the roadside bush

After a brief stop at Bella di Karoo padstal for some provisions, we carried on to Calitzdorp, which was hosting a succulent festival – a few side streets were closed off and filled with stalls selling all manner of succulents and filled with people meandering about enjoying the atmosphere.

It was lunchtime when we eventually got to the estate, just in time for a fine lunch of country bread, cheese and jam enjoyed on the covered stoep, after which we all relaxed for most of the afternoon in our various ways.

The cottage just after completion

Andre and Geraldine have done wonders with the garden around their cottage, filling it with hardy plants that can survive the hot summers and cold winters in this arid part of the country and I noticed that one particular succulent ground cover was covered in small white flowers and was attracting a multitude of butterflies.

This was too good an opportunity to miss, so I promptly took my camera and positioned myself on the ground near the action and spent a happy half hour or so just watching the comings and goings of the butterflies, bees and other insects, capturing them on the camera where I could. I was very pleased with the results and with the help of my butterfly books was able to identify three species of butterfly.

Bees were also in on the action….

Not to mention the dragonflies that were active…

Dragonfly: Common Thorntail (Ceratogomphus pictus)

All of this action set me up nicely for a lengthy nap, followed by a walk along the river, which for a long time had been bone dry but now had a trickle of water after recent rains. I enjoyed the bird calls emanating from the riverine bush as I walked – a boost to my rather meagre list of birds for the visit.

Part of the trail along the river

Supper was wildswors (venison sausage) braai-ed over coals – simply delicious! Sunday morning was equally lazy and relaxed with light rain falling on and off – what a pleasure in these dry parts!

Come Sunday afternoon it was time to return home – the journey was marked by two highlights…..

A spectacular, perfect rainbow framing the road ahead as we drove.

Rainbow, Calitzdorp trip

A Southern Black Korhaan alongside the road, causing me to brake sharply as I knew I had never been in a position to photograph this species. Before turning back, I retrieved my camera from its bag on the back seat and made sure the settings were correct, then turned the car and drove carefully and slowly to where I had seen the Korhaan, staying on the opposite side of the road so as not to spook it.

The Korhaan moved away quite quickly as I approached, using a roadside ditch and small bushes to keep itself concealed. I followed on the other side of the road, camera at the ready as I watched for approaching vehicles at the same time as keeping an eye on the bird, which showed briefly between bushes. This carried on for a while until the distance between bushes allowed some clear shots, with the Korhaan eyeing me with extreme suspicion.

Mission accomplished and with a feeling of satisfaction at having “captured” this rather elusive species on camera, we continued to Mossel Bay.

Many years ago I read a report on a destination in the Free State that the writer described along the lines of – “a weekend in so-and-so is like a week in the country”. This description came back to me after our one-night weekend in the Klein Karoo – we all felt as if we had enjoyed a week in the country.

Kruger in Winter – The Happy Couples

When we visit Kruger National Park, my focus is – as my Blog title suggests – mostly on the birding. That said, I enjoy all aspects of our premier game reserve, but it is often the birds that end up grabbing most of my attention.

During our winter visit in July this year we had many memorable animal and bird sightings and my photographic passion was well fed by the opportunities that arose. Most of the birds I photographed were species that I have previously been able to capture digitally, but the beauty of photography, and especially bird photography, is that there is always a chance of a better photograph, or perhaps a photo which displays the bird from a different angle or actively doing what birds do.

After our week in Kruger in July, I uploaded the many photos to Adobe Lightroom, my photo management and editing software of choice, and worked through the photos that I had taken, applying my customary edits and crops.

I realised that a few of the species I had photographed were of those species that show marked differences between the male and female and I had managed to get reasonable images of both. Another species was accompanied by juvenile birds showing features not yet as fully developed as in the adults. All show interesting differences and I thought I would make them the subject of this post ……

Chestnut-backed Sparrowlark (Eremopterix leucotis / Rooiruglewerik)

Preferring semi-arid short grassland and savanna, this species is fairly uncommon in Kruger but we have found it in the same area a couple of times – about halfway along the Satara-Olifants road.

They spend a lot of their time on the ground, feeding on grass seeds and insects. While the male is very distinctive with its rich chestnut back and white ear patch, the female is a lot paler and on its own can easily be confused with some of the other Lark species.

In this instance there was a small flock of Sparrowlarks not far from the road in an area with very little bush cover so I was able to fairly easily photograph both male and female, although I cannot guarantee that the two shown are actually a couple….

Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Lark (Female) (Eremopterix leucotis smithi), Olifants area, Kruger Park
Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Lark (Male) (Eremopterix leucotis smithi), Olifants area, Kruger Park

Namaqua Dove (Oena capensis / Namakwaduifie)

The Namaqua Dove is fairly easy to spot, even at a distance or flying past rapidly – its long tail and slim build distinguishes it from all other doves in the Southern African region. Once you get close enough to view it through binoculars, the male’s distinctive black face, throat and upper breast stand out along with its yellow/orange bill, while the female lacks those same features, having a plain grey body and a darker bill.

It is a nomadic species, preferring arid and semi-arid savannah and feeds on seeds of grass, sedges and weeds.

Coincidentally, we came across what appeared to be a family group of Namaqua doves not far from the Sparrowlarks, in a similarly arid area along the Satara-Olifants road

Namaqua Dove (Female) (Oena capensis / Namakwaduifie), Olifants area, Kruger Park
Namaqua Dove (Male) (Oena capensis / Namakwaduifie), Olifants area, Kruger Park

Double-banded Sandgrouse  (Pterocles bicinctus /  Dubbelbandsandpatrys)

The black and white forehead band and narrow black and white breast band of the male distinguish the male from the female, which lacks both features, having a barred breast and no forehead markings

This is a fairly scarce species, mostly terrestial, found in savannah woodland and is known to be monogamous, so this pair we came across can safely be presumed to be a “couple”. We found them in the area just west of Olifants camp, not far from the river.

Once found they are quite accommodating to the photographer and not easily spooked if you approach carefully and position the car to get the best vantage point, while watching their movements.

Double-banded Sandgrouse (Female) (Pterocles bicinctus multicolor), Olifants area, Kruger Park
Double-banded Sandgrouse (Male) (Pterocles bicinctus multicolor), Olifants area, Kruger Park

Then there are the less marked but interesting differences between adult and juvenile birds …

Retz’s Helmetshrike (Prionops retzii / Swarthelmlaksman)

I was pleasantly surprised to find a group of Retz’s Helmet-shrikes in Pretoriuskop camp during a morning walk, making their way busily and noisily through the trees. They are fairly common but often inconspicuous when out on a game or birding drive, as they move through the trees almost constantly and their dark colouring makes them difficult to spot. It’s a lot easier to spot them when in flight between trees.

While the adults are overall mostly black and brown with glossy shades and the distinctive red wattle around the eyes, the juvenile is more grey-brown and lacks the red wattles.

Groups consist of on average 5 birds, their preferred habitat is broadleaved woodland and they feed on insects and spiders.

Retz’s Helmet-Shrike (Prionops retzii / Swarthelmlaksman), Pretoriuskop, Kruger Park
Retz’s Helmet-Shrike (Juvenile) (Prionops retzii / Swarthelmlaksman), Pretoriuskop, Kruger Park

Kruger in Winter – Aloes, Sunbirds, Butterflies and Friends

We were changing camps during our winter visit to Kruger – this time from Lower Sabie where we had spent just one night, to Pretoriuskop, where we were booked for 2 nights. Being around 100 kms apart, at Kruger speeds with stops at sightings, we were counting on around 3 to 4 hours of easy travelling.

The Lower Sabie – Skukuza “highway” was as busy as always with large knots of vehicles at sightings, including a lion spotted moving through the bush on the river side, providing brief glimpses as it passed openings between the trees.

We decided to take a break at Skukuza, the largest and busiest of Kruger’s camps and a favourite of overseas tourists. We bought take away coffees and muffins, then found a nice sunny spot with a view – of the tourists passing by in their many shapes, sizes and degrees of dress sense. It’s a form of entertainment, guessing the origin of the tourists based on their choice of “safari gear” – some in designer khaki, others in strange combinations of camouflage clothing paired with dark apparel, many looking totally out of place.

Once we tired of that game, I started looking around the gardens and noticed a bright yellow sunbird at one of the flowering aloes, an irresistible subject for a bird photographer, so I leapt up (well that’s what it felt like, others may say I stood up quickly) and rushed over to get myself positioned near the aloe with the light from behind and shoot a few photos until I had some reasonable ones of the Collared Sunbird.

Collared Sunbird (Hedydipna collaris / Kortbeksuikerbekkie) Skukuza, Kruger Park

The adjoining aloes had attracted yellow butterflies and I set about capturing a few images of these colourful creatures as they fed on the aloe nectar.

It was only when I reviewed the photos, zooming in to check the sharpness of the detail, that I noticed I had captured a tiny flying insect “passenger”, clinging to its butterfly host then flying off to find another.

Butterfly : African Migrant (Catopsilia florella), Skukuza, Kruger Park

Zooming in to see what that dot on the wing edge is, revealed a tiny flying insect, not more than 1 mm long, clinging to the butterfly

The insect takes off :

Modern digital cameras are quite amazing in the detail they can capture!

Excited with this butterfly I looked around for others and amongst the leaf litter I found …………… well you can decide if there is anything to see in this next photo

The photo below compared with the one above, demonstrates how well camouflaged a butterfly can be when its wings are closed and in the right surrounds, despite its bright colouring when fully open

Butterfly : Speckled sulphur-tip (Colotis agoye agoye), Skukuza, Kruger Park

Kruger in Winter – Lazy Birding

One of the great pleasures of birding in Kruger National Park is that you don’t necessarily have to go on a game drive to find a variety of birds. Birding the camp on foot is often a very productive way of building up a list of bird sightings and, if you are fortunate, you may be allocated a rondavel or chalet with surrounds that bring the birds to you.

Most of Kruger’s camps attract many birds with their well developed trees and gardens, as well as the bush that surrounds the camps, and there is no better way to enjoy the diverse bird life than sitting on your small stoep, sustained by regular injections of appropriate beverages, watching the passing show of birds and occasional animals.

As I mentioned in my last post, we were lucky to get a booking in Olifants camp for 5 nights during the last week of the winter school holidays – prime time in Kruger – and were doubly lucky to get a rondavel with “River view”, which are very sought after.

When we arrived at Olifants and drove to our rondavel after checking in, we were thrilled to see just how good our “river view” was – a view that started with the fence a couple of metres away, then dense bush and trees all the way down the steep slope to the river far below, where we could already make out an elephant or two and some hippos in the pools that form amongst the rocky course of this iconic river.

The River View from our stoep

Over the next 5 days, between the customary game drives, we spent as much time as possible on our small stoep, from early morning coffee to sundowner time, just chilling, reading and seemingly not concerned with our immediate surroundings, but ready at any moment to check out a nearby bird in the bush or more distant ones flying across the river below.

Seen from the Stoep…..

Here are some of the birds that came by to visit us, all taken from our stoep:

Orange-breasted Bushshrike (Chlorophoneus sulfureopectus / Oranjeborslaksman), Olifants camp
Jameson’s Firefinch (Female) (Lagonosticta rhodopareia / Jamesonse vuurvinkie), Olifants camp
Dark-capped Bulbul (Pycnonotus tricolor layardi subspecies / Swartoogtiptol), Olifants camp
Spectacled Weaver (Ploceus ocularis / Brilwewer), Olifants camp
Acacia Pied Barbet (Tricholaema leucomelas/ Bonthoutkapper), Olifants camp
White-throated Robin-Chat (Cossypha humeralis / Witkeeljanfrederik), Olifants camp
Brown-crowned Tchagra (Tchagra australis / Rooivlerktjagra), Olifants camp
Green-winged Pytilia (Juvenile) (Pytilia melba / Gewone melba), Olifants camp
Tawny-flanked Prinia (Prinia subflava / Bruinsylangstertjie), Olifants camp
Long-billed Crombec (Sylvietta rufescens / Bosveldstompstert), Olifants camp

And others….

The bush in fron of our rondavel was alive with bird life for most of the day and we saw many more than those photographed above, including the likes of …..

Black-headed Oriole

Brown-headed Parrot

Golden-tailed Woodpecker (who decided to “shadow-box” a supposed rival in our car’s external mirror on the day we packed to move on)

Grey-headed Bush-shrike

And to round off, a couple of non-bird visitors………

Tree Squirrel
Wasp? Not really sure but an attractive insect

Kruger in Winter – Looking at Wildlife

It’s a strange thing, this love of Kruger National Park – come the winter months with the highveld air getting drier and colder as we move into June and July, my thoughts involuntarily turn toward the bushveld wilderness where we have spent so many relaxing times.

Gerda knows by now to expect me to express my longing, sometimes subtly, other times more direct – “ooh, I wish we were in Kruger” or “did you hear so and so are in Kruger, lucky devils” or words to that effect. Then when she says “don’t you want to book a week for us?”, I naturally react with surprise and reply “what a good idea”.

And that’s how we found ourselves on the road to Olifants camp in early July this year. Surprisingly, we had found space in a standard Olifants camp rondavel in the last week of the school holidays, after finding the rest of July all but fully booked up in our preferred camps. We were lucky to get 5 nights in Olifants and another 3 nights in Lower Sabie and Pretoriuskop.

We go to Kruger to relax ……. and to look at wildlife, This time around I had this odd feeling they were looking at us – animals and birds alike – what do you think?

The Horned Animals

Buffalo, Olifants area, Kruger Park
Blue Wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus), Olifants area, Kruger Park
Waterbuck, Olifants area, Kruger Park

Unhorned and harmless

Bushbuck, Pretoriuskop, Kruger Park
Steenbok (Raphicerus campestris), Olifants area, Kruger Park

The Cute Youngsters

Baboon, Olifants area, Kruger Park
Spotted Hyena pup, Tshokwane area, Kruger Park

The Smaller Animals

Tree Squirrel, Olifants area, Kruger Park
Dwarf Mongoose, Pretoriuskop, Kruger Park

A Predator

Cheetah, Lower Sabie area, Kruger Park

The only Disinterested Animal

White Rhino, Lower Sabie area, Kruger Park

Even a Reptile

Water Monitor, Olifants area, Kruger Park

And Birds, of Course

Trumpeter Hornbill (Male) (Bycanistes bucinator / Gewone boskraai), Lower Sabie camp, Kruger Park
Yellow-billed Stork (Mycteria ibis / Geelbekooievaar), Lower Sabie area, Kruger Park
Burchell’s Coucal (Centropus burchellii / Gewone vleiloerie), Lower Sabie area, Kruger Park
Swainson’s Spurfowl (Pternistis swainsonii / Bosveldfisant), Lower Sabie area, Kruger Park
Greater Blue-eared Starling (Lamprotornis chalybaeus / Groot-blouoorglansspreeu), Tshokwane, Kruger Park
Tawny-flanked Prinia (Prinia subflava / Bruinsylangstertjie), Olifants area, Kruger Park
Chinspot Batis (Male) (Batis molitor), Olifants area, Kruger Park
Swainson’s Spurfowl (Juvenile) (Pternistis swainsonii), Olifants area, Kruger Park

And a tree knot looking like an Owl, looking at us

Owl-faced tree, Olifants area, Kruger Park

So if you find yourself in Kruger, or any other Park, looking at wildlife, I’m sure you will find them looking at you as well

At the Bird Feeder

It never fails to amaze me how quickly birds of the seedeater variety react to my replenishing the feeder in our garden, usually descending on it en masse within half an hour of filling it.

This happened again recently after I had been away and had not filled the feeder for some weeks – the first birds were there in no time at all. I suspect they “do the rounds” of all potential feeding sites each day, otherwise how would they know? And there must be some system of communication that informs other birds of different species of the presence of food.

Whatever the case, it is always interesting to see which species turn up – often the same mix but sometimes a non-regular puts in an appearance.

Here is a selection of the birds that came to the feeder in the space of a couple of days recently –

Sparrows

Two of the four South African Sparrows are regulars in the garden – the House Sparrow, despite its name, does not come to the garden, preferring to scrounge for scraps at the local shopping centre’s parking area

Cape Sparrow (Male) (Passer melanurus / Gewone mossie)
Southern Grey-headed Sparrow (Passer diffusus / Gryskopmossie)
Cape Sparrow (Female) and Grey-headed Sparrow

Finches

Both of the Amadina finches are fairly regular visitors and the males provide a splash of colour with their vivid red “cut-throat” and head. They also feed on insects and termites where they can

Cut-throat Finch (Male) (Amadina fasciata / Bandkeelvink)
Cut-throat Finch (Female) (Amadina fasciata / Bandkeelvink)
Red-headed Finch (Male) (Amadina erythrocephala dissita / Rooikopvink)
Red-headed Finch (Female) (Amadina erythrocephala dissita / Rooikopvink)

Weavers

There are four weaver species in the residential estate that we live in, thanks mainly to the two small dams that form part of it. Two of them are regular visitors to the garden, being Southern Masked Weaver and Village Weaver, while the Cape Weaver is very seldom seen in the garden and the Thick-billed Weaver not at all

The regular weavers are, at first glance, quite similar but have a few distinguishing features – the black forehead of the Southern Masked Weaver versus the yellow forehead of the Village Weaver, the plainer mottled back of the Southern Masked Weaver versus the heavily blotched back of the village Weaver (not visible in these photos)

Southern Masked Weaver (Male breeding) (Ploceus velatus race tahatali / Swartkeelgeelvink)
Village Weaver (Male breeding) (Ploceus cucullatus race spilonotus / Bontrugwewer)

The photo below shows the difference in the forehead colours

Village and Southern Masked Weavers

Looking at the photos I had taken, I noticed that the Village Weaver had an elongated bill – this is an abnormality that occurs in various bird species. This individual did not seem to have a problem feeding

Village Weaver (Male breeding) (Ploceus cucullatus race spilonotus / Bontrugwewer)

Lovebirds

Over the last 3 to 4 years a feral population of Lovebirds has established a presence in our residential estate, probably being cage bird escapees originally. They most closely resemble the Black-cheeked Lovebird that occurs in Zambia but are quite hybridised, with some birds being almost entirely yellow. I am split between appreciating their bright colouring and disliking the fact that feral birds are spreading in the eastern suburbs of Pretoria

Feral Lovebird – Yellow-collared/Black-cheeked

Mannikins

These cute little birds appear in small flocks, twittering away happily

Bronze Mannikin (Lonchura cucullata / Gewone fret)

Which all goes to show you don’t have to travel far from home to find interesting birds

Australian Adventure – The Birds of Australia – 3

Concluding the summary of the birds seen during our trip to Australia earlier this year, listed by general habitat ……

Fields and Farmlands

Whether out walking or on a drive, we found that open fields, parklands and farmlands attracted numerous species, most likely looking for that tasty worm or insect as they moved in small and large groups across the terrain

Eastern Cattle Egret (Bubulcus coromandus) – this common bird only arrived in Australia in 1948 but is now widespread over most of the country except the northwest and interior (which is vast). Looks identical to the Western Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis) of southern Africa and has the same habits.

Masked Lapwing (Vanellus miles) – there is something about Lapwings that makes them one of my favourite groups of birds, and this attractive species is no exception. I think it has to do with their pleasing proportions, their neat appearance and the fact that they spend much of their time at ground level, like all respectable humans do. The Masked Lapwing has distinctive yellow wattles, much like the Wattled Lapwing (Vanellus senegallus) and White-crowned Lapwing (Vanellus albiceps) of southern Africa. It’s distribution is mainly over the eastern half of Australia. According to the reference book the one found in Victoria and photographed here is the subspecies novaehollandiae, told by the black hind neck and sides of the breast, as well as smaller wattles

White-faced Heron (Egretta novaehollandiae) – the most commonly seen heron in Australia, this species is found near water according to the reference books, but the few times I saw it was in fields such as the photo following.

Australasian Swamphen (Porphyrio melanotus) – now you may be wondering why I have shown this species under “Fields and farmlands” rather than lakes and rivers. Being used to seeing its southern African cousin skulking amongst waterside vegetation, I expected to have only fleeting glimpses of this species, if at all, so it was a surprise to encounter groups of them in parks and fields, walking about in the open and as common as our Hadedas.

Australian White Ibis (Threskiornis molucca) – found across most of Australia, this Ibis is equally at home in and near water or in parks and pastures. Said to be nomadic, with young birds dispersing, usually northwards, up to 1200 km

Australian Raven (Corvus coronoides) – a common endemic, this raven is similar in appearance to the other all black ravens and crows that make up the family Corvidae. I was able to narrow this one down by looking at distribution, habitat and the finer details such as the shaggy “beard” that sets the Australian Raven apart.

Straw-necked Ibis (Threskiornis spinicollis) – An endemic and Australia’s most common Ibis, which we can vouch for as we saw it in numbers wherever we travelled in Victoria.

Cape Barren Goose (Cereopsis novaehollandiae) – this endemic Goose has a limited distribution on offshore islands and the adjacent mainland in the far south of Australia. We came across it on Philip Island during our visit to the site of the Penguin Parade

Raptors, Swallows and others

Laughing Kookaburra (Dacelo novaeguineae) – an endemic and well-known species, the Kookaburra belongs to a grouping of 7 dry land “tree kingfishers” with the Laughing Kookaburra being the largest of them. Pairs produce an iconic chorus of loud “laughter” in the mornings which is unmistakeable and eerie at the same time as they are not always visible. They are mainly found in the eastern third of Australia as well as the southwestern corner – their natural habitat is forest edges, woodlands and parks but we saw them a few times perched on roadside telephone wires.

Black-shouldered Kite (Elanus axillaris) – so that’s why the southern African Black-shouldered Kite (Elanus caeruleus) was recently renamed Black-winged Kite! Presumably to differentiate it from the Australian species of the same name but different genus. The look and habits of this endemic are very similar to the one we know from SA, hovering and dropping onto prey, which is more often than not the introduced house mouse

Welcome Swallow (Hirundo neoxena) – the only swallow I saw and in small numbers except for one afternoon when a hundred or more were foraging for insects over Lake Guthridge in Sale, swooping and diving above the surface of the water

Whistling Kite (Haliastur sphenurus) – common over most of Australia, I had several sightings of this handsome raptor, often in effortless wheeling flight over farmlands and wetlands. The photo below was taken while walking on Sale Common, just after I saw the Kite landing in a tall tree

Grey Butcherbird (Cracticus torquatus) – Yet another endemic species, widely distributed over Ausralia except for the northern third. I came across this species just once while walking to the local supermarket – it was calling from within a dense tree and all I had was my cellphone to capture an image, thus the poor quality photo. Their name comes from their habit of hanging larger prey in a tree fork, then dismembering it with their sharp hook-tipped bill (much like some of the Shrike family of southern Africa)

Grey Shrike-thrush (Colluricincia harmonica) – we had just the one sighting of this common species during a drive out of Apollo Bay. It popped up onto the fence where it waited for me to get my camera in position, then just before releasing the shutter it flew down to the ground and off into the nearby bush leaving me mildly frustrated yet glad I had seen it

Azure Kingfisher (Ceyx azureus) – another one that eluded my camera – we were on the Sale Canal cruise when I was the first to spot it down river, the azure colour standing out against the green background. Next moment it flew up to the boat and perched on an open branch just long enough for everyone on the boat to see it, then flashed off upriver leaving me holding my camera in despair. Classed as moderately common, it is found along the northern and eastern parts of Australia

Nankeen Night-Heron (Nycticorax caledonicus) – this mostly nocturnal species (asleep but wary during the day as you will see from the photo below) occurs over most of Australia, roosting in colonies near water. They leave the colony in unison and forage during the evening and before dawn for fish and other aquatic prey

Willie Wagtail (Rhipidura leucophrys) – the name wagtail is a tad misleading as it is in fact classified under the Fantails and is the largest of the fantail family. They are well-loved and for good reason with their chirpy attitude and cute sideways wagging of the fanned tail – they would have easily taken to the Twist dance of the 60’s (which is also the only one I could master). Apparently fearless in defence of their nest, they will take on all-comers and are often seen chasing away eagles

Wedge-tailed Eagle (Aquila audax) – we had just one brief sighting of this eagle as it soared above the road while driving to Philip Island. It is classed as common and its distribution covers all of Australia. The largest of Australia’s raptors, it is easily distinguished by the wedge-shaped tail

The Colourful Birds (Like, Everywhere!)

Australia is famous for its colourful species such as Parrots, Cockatoos, Lorikeets and such like, and rightly so – they are literally everywhere, often in surprising numbers and are a feature of birding in this amazing country. It’s also an interesting fact of nature that the more colourful the bird, the less attractive their song seems to be – not always true of course but many of those that we encountered produced the most grating, unattractive calls.

Rainbow Lorikeet (Trichoglossus moluccanus) – this was the first of the colourful birds that we saw and we enjoyed almost daily sightings of them in the suburbs

Galah (Eolophus roseicapella) – this common endemic is a ground feeder and all of our sightings were of it walking about on lawns, when not in flight to the next grassy area

Little Corella (Cacatua sanguinea) – classed as locally common, we came across large flocks on a few occasions, as shown in the featured photo at the top of this post. They are found over most of Australia and are also ground feeders

Crimson Rosella (Platycercus elegans) – a common endemic which is confined to the southeastern corner of Australia and favours tall eucalyptus trees. The crimson colouring is quite breathtaking in its intensity and combined with the rich blue on the wings and tail makes for a spectacular bird

Eastern Rosella (Platycercus eximius) – another common endemic and like the above, confined to the southeastern corner of Australia. Despite the vivid colours it is surprisingly well camouflaged when among foliage – we had just one clear sighting on Raymond Isand

Australian King Parrot (Alisterus scapularis) – this endemic parrot is found in the southeastern parts of Australia and migrates to coastal plains in winter from its favoured habitat of mountain forests, parks and gardens

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo (cacatura galerita) – this noisy and conspicuous species is impossible to overlook, occuring in large flocks and often foraging on the ground or gathering in trees in surburbia. South Africans of a certain age (let’s leave it at that) will remember the NBS adverts that featured this bird demonstrating how it can raise and lower its bright yellow crest

And that concludes the pleasurable task of listing all the birds seen during our visit to Australia – roll on the next visit!

Australian Adventure – The Birds of Australia – 2

Continuing the summary of the birds seen during our trip to Australia earlier this year, listed by general habitat ……

Lakes and Rivers

Sale in Victoria, our base for the time we were in Australia, is blessed with a sizeable lake – Lake Guthridge – which is bordered on the one side by a main road and on the other by parkland and botanical gardens. A smaller lake – Lake Guyatt – adjoins it and the nearby river and Sale Canal all add to the abundance of water within walking distance of the house, providing plenty of opportunity to view the birds that favour these habitats.

Eurasian Coot (Fulica atra) – A familiar species, almost identical to the Red-knobbed Coot we know so well in SA, the only obvious difference being the absence of the red knob. Found over most of Australia, there were huge flocks on Lake Guthridge at times

Dusky Moorhen (Gallinula tenebrosa) – Another very familiar looking species, with small differences between it and the Common Moorhen of southern Africa, such as reddish instead of yellow legs and the lack of the white wing flashes. Australian distribution is limited to the eastern half of the continent.

Dusky Moorhen, Sale, Victoria

Black Swan (Cygnus atratus) – An Australian endemic, this is a species that has been successfully “exported” to South Africa and for years we had a pair on one of the small dams in our residential estate in Pretoria, brought there by one of the well-meaning residents. Good to look at but I am never comfortable having exotic species in places that they don’t belong. So it was a pleasure to see so many of these elegant birds in their natural environment and the sight of a group of them flying off to their roost at dusk, long necks outstretched, black bodies contrasting with white underwing will long remain in my mind.

Pacific Black Duck (Anas superciliosa) – this is the most abundant of Australia’s ducks, found in pairs or small flocks on most open waters. The iridescent speculum shows in flight or, if you are lucky as I was, while preening

Chestnut Teal (Anas castanea) – Australian endemic, common in southwestern and southeastern Australia, we encountered this distinctive medium-sized duck regularly on lakes and rivers

Blue-billed Duck (Oxyura australis) – I only had one sighting of this distinctive Australian endemic during our visit to Raymond Island, but that was enough to have it imprinted on my mind. Said to be moderately common, it is found mainly in southeastern Australia. It is a completely aquatic diving duck almost unable to walk on land and remains well out from shore

Maned Duck (Chenonetta jubata) also known as the Australian Wood Duck – Yet another endemic, this duck is unusual in that it prefers walking about on the grassy banks of the river or lake rather than taking to the water. We had several sightings of these ducks and never saw them in the water

Australasian Grebe (Tachybaptus novaehollandiae) – a small cute Grebe found over most of Australia but restricted to sheltered fresh water

Freckled Duck (Stictonetta naevosa) – such a cool name for a duck! It could easily be the name of a pub in one of those cosy villages in England. I was probably lucky to spot this endemic duck on the lake fringes on the last day of our visit to Australia, as the book gives its status as “Rare” with patchy distribution across eastern Australia

Australasian Darter (Anhinga novaehollandiae) – widespread across Australia and moderately common, it is also known as the “snake-bird” for the same reason as its African cousin – it swims with body submerged and its snake like head and long neck visible

Australian Pelican (Pelicanus conspicillatus) – A species which is hard to miss and surprisingly common on larger bodies of water, swimming and dipping in unison in their characteristic manner. Despite their large size, but perhaps because of their 2,3m wingspan, they are adept at riding updrafts of warm air to heights of up to 3000m and travelling long distances.

Yellow-billed Spoonbill – (Platelea flavipes) – A common endemic, found across most of Australia. Like all spoonbills it wades in shallow muddy waters, slowly sweeping the water with its spatula-like bill for fish, shrimps and crustaceans

Eastern Great Egret (Ardea modesta) – On the face of it this egret is identical to the Great Egret that we know from Southern Africa, but the books show its species name as ardea modesta, whereas the SA species goes under the name ardea alba, so clearly the boffins have decided there is enough evidence to separate it. Strictly speaking the SA species should perhaps be known as the Western Great Egret.

Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) – largest of the Australian cormorants and also widespread on rivers, dams, lakes and estuaries

Little Black Cormorant (Phalacrocorax sulcirostris) – common on inland waters across most of Australia

Little Pied Cormorant (Microcarbo melanoleucus) – smallest of the Australian cormorants, often abundant on lagoons, dams and lakes

Coastal

We spent most of our time inland but a week-long road trip included the Great Ocean Road and Philip Island near Melbourne, which afforded some opportunities to find species which prefer coastal habitats

Silver Gull (Chroicocephalus novaeholandiae) – the most common gull in Australia, this striking bird is found along the coast as well as on inland lakes

Pacific Gull (Larus pacificus) – classed as moderately common, this endemic gull is found along the southern and eastern coast of Australia. We had just one sighting of a juvenile gull

Australasian Gannet (Morus serrator) – I was excited to find this species offshore at Cape Otway Light station, having previously seen its African and North American “cousins”, all very similar looking. It was too far offshore for a decent photo so I have added one from the reference book

Sooty Oystercatcher (Haematopus fuliginosus) – I was hoping to see this species during our Great Ocean Road trip and was thrilled to find a pair on a rocky stretch of the coast. It is classed as moderately common and found along Australia’s coastline

Crested Tern (Thalasseus bergii) – The only tern seen during our trip happened to be one that I am very familiar with, as it is the most common tern seen when we spend time at our Mossel Bay home

Little Penguin (Eudyptula minor) – I have written about the “Penguin Parade” in previous posts so won’t repeat that here. Suffice to say that this species is a major tourist attraction and money-spinner for the authorities that control the viewing experience on Philip Island.

Adventurous Birding, Atlasing and Travel