Just when you thought it was safe to go into 2016, here is another of those pesky “looking back at 2015” stories. Apologies but I just have to do it – so here is my review of my birding year, for what it is worth.
It has been another busy year of travel for Gerda and myself, in between maintaining our normal home routines, however this time around we did not do any “overseas” trips but confined ourselves to travel within South Africa. In addition my birding took me to Mozambique for a dedicated 2 week birding extravaganza and work-related trips took me to northern Botswana, where I was able to fit in some wonderful birding and game viewing – all in all it made for another interesting year…….
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 atlasing in the Golf Estate where our house is located and in the surrounding area. (reminder : “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)
Gerda joined me for a morning of atlasing near Albertinia, with breakfast and coffee stops to make it a pleasant outing for both of us.
From the 9th to 12th we did a short trip through the Western Cape, spending one night in Swellendam and two more visiting Johan and Rosa in Worcester. I managed to sneak in some atlasing as we went without turning up anything of note.
On the 16th it was time to leave Mossel Bay and return to Gauteng but not without making the most of the journey – two nights in Prince Albert in the Karoo and one in Hoopstad in the Free State made sure of that.
Undoubtedly the highlight of my birding year started on 29th January with a two week birding trip through Mozambique as part of a group of 10 in four vehicles. The full report appears in my posts from earlier in 2015 and it is difficult to isolate the highlights as every day was full of them, but here are a few that were really special and the “Lifers” that went with them :
- Early morning on the Limpopo floodplain with Sedge Warblers and Rufous-winged Cisticolas
- Birding on the mudflats at Imhambane and Lighthouse beach nearby – Lesser Sand Plover, Lesser Crested Tern and Crab Plover
- Driving through dense woodland to the Panda area to view Olive-headed Weaver, Green Tinkerbird, Woodward’s Batis and Livingstone’s Flycatcher, amongst a plethora of other desirable species
- Lunch stop in more dense woodland which was alive with bird life, adding Red-winged Warbler
- Dragging a rope across pristine floodplains of the Rio Savane near Beira in hot, humid weather, hoping to flush some of the specials – Great Snipe was one reward
- Photographing a warbler in the Rio Maria area, which turned out to be Basra Reed Warbler, a southern Africa megatick
- Mphingwe camp and the surrounding pristine forests of the Catapu area which produced a multitude of magnificent lifers – Ayre’s Hawk-Eagle, Barred Long-tailed Cuckoo, Mangrove Kingfisher, Tiny Greenbul, White-crested Alethe, East Coast Akalat, Black-headed Apalis, Plain-becked Sunbird, and Broad-taled Paradise Whydah
- A memorable trip to the Zambezi to view Bohm’s Bee-eater and several other special birds (not to mention the atrocious road and the failed propshaft bearing of my vehicle)
- Coutada 12 birding adding Short-winged Cisticola, Chestnut-fronted Helmetshrike and Orange-winged Pytilia
- Mphingwe camp – enforced longer stay due to car repairs but also time to explore the surrounds and home in on some beautiful butterflies
A weekend in Cape Town revolved around the Cape Town Cycle Tour which I had entered – no time for any intensive birding but we did enjoy a walk through Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens and some lightweight birding in Stellenbosch where we stayed in the Devon Valley Hotel
On the 14th I joined Koos Pauw for some interesting atlasing at the Baviaanspoort Water Treatment works (ie Sewage farm) where a pale form Steppe Buzzard had us postulating for some time.
27th saw us heading to Mossel Bay for the Easter holidays, with a stop over at Prior Grange near Springfontein – a favourite overnight spot in the Free State with some excellent birding on the farm and the surrounds
During our stay in Mossel Bay I confined my birding to the immediate area with one atlasing trip to Albertinia.
A short trip to the Western Cape included a stay in McGregor on the 12th and some exploration of the Robertson area and Greyton – I squeezed in some atlasing as we went
Back in Pretoria Koos and I atlased in the Kwamhlanga area on the 25th, which produced some surprisingly good birding – near a vlei we saw Lanner Falcon, African Quail-Finch and heard African Rail in quick succession. Soon after, in a hilly, rocky area along a side road, I was thrilled to find Short-toed Rock-Thrush posing beautifully in a dry tree, a lifer for me.
My first trip to Kasane in northern Botswana from 5th to 7th for a project I am involved in, was the first of many for the year and a chance to explore the natural delights of Chobe National Park in between work commitments. This trip was all about excellent game viewing experiences with enough birding to whet my appetite for later visits.
More atlasing on the 16th (Kwamhlanga area) and 25th (Delmas area) and 30th (Coalfields around Ogies), produced some memorable species.
Winter atlasing in the dry grasslands near Bronkhorstspruit on 6th was followed two days later by atlasing near Balfour after a two hour drive through early morning traffic.
The same day I visited Marievale Bird Sanctuary for some relaxed birding and photography at this wonderful venue, which I had all to myself, it being a Monday.
18th to 25th was Koos and Rianda’s timeshare week at Verlorenkloof, which we were once again invited to share with them, unquestionably our favourite place for superb birding and relaxation and it produced many highlights as usual.
Saturday 4th was time for more winter atlasing, this time south of Balmoral with the challenge being ID’ing the seed eating species in their drab winter plumage – the watchword is definitely “practice makes perfect”.
Another trip to Kasane, another chance to visit Chobe, followed on the 7th to 9th.
Our winter trip to Mossel Bay started on the 12th and we only returned on the 1st of August. Birding was confined to Mossel Bay for the first 10 days due to cold, wet weather which gave me the chance to atlas the Golf Estate thoroughly and watch the birds coming to our feeder.
Gerda joined me for a short trip to Klein Brak and the beautiful countryside, green and lush after the substantial rains
My only specific atlasing trip was along the Herbertsdale road with some good birding in the two pentads.
Our trip to Robertson to taste the culinary and birding delights followed – see my separate post on this trip.
A late winter trip to Kasane on the 4th to 6th produced some memorable game and bird sightings once again.
Koos and I atlased the De Wildt area on the 8th with some interesting sightings
Another Kasane trip on the 8th to 11th included a day trip to Victoria Falls to view the new airport under construction and an afternoon visit to the Falls
We managed to squeeze in a Chobe Riverfront drive with some stunning sightings being the reward
An atlasing trip on the 19th to dusty, sprawling Garankuwa north of Pretoria produced more than expected with lovely sightings of Fairy Flycatcher, Striped Kingfisher and others
One of the year’s highlights came up in October with a week long visit to Satara camp in Kruger, documented in several separate posts, followed by another highlight when our timeshare week at Verlorenkloof came up just afterwards from 16th to 20th, producing some of the best birding ever in this superb locality
Back to Kasane on 6th to 8th and more of Chobe Riverfront, but this time, accompanied by another keen birder – Derek Thomas, we did some proper atlasing in this amazing slice of Africa and in a new (for us) location – Kasane Water Treatment Works
The 13th saw me heading to Mkhombo dam area for an atlasing session, with a visit to the dam to see if some of the special birds seen during the preceding weeks were still around.
Before we knew it, 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 in Hoopstad for two nights, one on the farm where I was able to fit in some good birding walks and drives.
Our second stopover was at Karoo National Park where we enjoyed the quiet Karoo atmosphere and some good birding.
In Mossel Bay my first atlasing trip was to the area west of the village Ruiterbos in beautiful rolling countryside
The last visit to Kasane on 2nd to 4th was another opportunity to atlas in Chobe and in Kasane itself at some spots located by Derek
Back in Mossel Bay I saw the year out with some fine atlasing around Herbertsdale, Vöelvlei and Gouritzmond
Plans for 2016? Let’s see what develops