Birding comes in different forms, sometimes challenging, requiring a dedicated effort, extended travel, perhaps some serious physical exertion, often in the face of less than favourable weather conditions.
However, it’s not always that way – some of the most relaxing and enjoyable birding is to be found in your immediate surroundings, whether at home or a holiday destination.
Which is precisely what we experienced during our recent visit to Verlorenkloof, a country resort that I have written about on a few occasions and one of our all-time favourite places to spend a breakaway week. We were fortunate to be invited by Koos and Rianda to join them in Croft No 3 (shown below) for the last week in May.
For those who don’t yet know, Verlorenkloof lies east of Dullstroom, but on the lower side of the escarpment which towers above the fertile valley in which the resort is situated. The red square on the map indicates the position of the pentad which includes Verlorenkloof resort.
The birding at Verlorenkloof is always exceptional, with my personal tally of species recorded in the area, after many visits over the last twelve years, standing at 195, so the expectations were high. These hopes were of course tempered by the knowledge that the last week in May is often a quiet time for birding, with none of the summer migrants present and many of the remaining species not in calling or displaying mode.
Oddly enough, for the first 3 or 4 days of our stay, the area around the Croft was very quiet with far fewer birds than we are used to, but over the last two days of our stay, following some light rain, the scene changed completely. Suddenly all of the usual visitors were there, searching the lawn for edible insects, worms and the like.
I was fascinated by the variety of mostly “ordinary” birds and their antics – each one displaying its own way of “raiding the lawn” and finding a tasty morsel while showing unique character traits and interacting with the other bird species doing more or less the same thing.
So here’s a selection of the Lawn Raiders –
Cape Wagtail (Gewone Kwikkie / Motacilla capensis)
The ultimate “I’m not going to bother anyone” bird – demurely pottering about, occasionally finding something to its taste then carrying on as if it was nothing special
Red-winged Starling (Rooivlerkspreeu / Onychognathus morio)
Enter the Darth Vader of the bird world – the menacing, glaring Red-winged Starling….. and they work in gangs, daring others to get in their way, descending en masse to grass level and prodding aggressively at the grass in search of a victim. But only after perching on the railing post in intimidating fashion.
The gang takes over ….
Common Fiscal (Fiskaallaksman / Lanius collaris)
Watching from a side tree, the Common Fiscal, aka Jacky Hangman aka the Butcherbird – what a reputation this small bird has, all because of its habit of impaling prey on a thorn or barbed wire! Its elegant appearance, as if dressed in formal attire, seems to project just the opposite impression.
Interestingly the Fiscal was quite composed, until the Fork-tailed Drongo arrived, when it flew from its perch and chased the Drongo until it retired to a far-off tree.
Striped Pipit (Gestreepte koester / Anthus lineiventris)
Another of the more timid birds, almost ever-present on the lawn, pottering about without bothering any of the others. But a bit of a celebrity nevertheless, being rated “uncommon to locally common” by Roberts – a regular at certain times at Verlorenkloof, but by no means guaranteed.
Familiar Chat (Gewone spekvreter / Cercemola familiaris)
Familiar is the right name for this well-known species. Another bird that is present from dawn to dusk around the Croft, watching from its favourite post and “diving” down to catch its tiny prey in the matted grass, with each return to its perch marked by three wing-flicks. I wondered how a bird with such tiny eyes can spot its prey at up to 5 metres or more, pouncing on it unerringly and returning to its post to devour it.
Cape Rock Thrush (Kaapse kliplyster / Monticella rupestris)
Bringing some class to the scene (did I mention I also originate from the Cape?) the Cape Rock Thrush has a way of dominating with its handsome looks and determined approach – they are not around constantly, but “pop in” from time to time, watching carefully from the roof edge or stone wall before pouncing on an unsuspecting prey.
And this is called hitting the jackpot
African Dusky Flycatcher (Donkervlieevanger / muscicapa adusta)
Now here’s everyone’s favourite bit player – demure, quiet, unobtrusive (for a moment I thought I was describing myself), spending much of the day perched in the shade on a thin twig, flying down to the grass to catch some small prey.
Dark-capped Bulbul (Swartoogtiptol / Pycnonotus tricolor)
The Bulbuls lie somewhere between the extremes shown by other species – not aggressive but certainly determined and not hesitating to pounce on prey before the competition gets to it
Black-collared Barbet (Rooikophoutkapper / Lybius torquatus)
A somewhat unexpected visitor, trying its luck along with the regulars. Despite its bright colours, this is a bird more familiar due to its call, a far-carrying duet, than its appearance. It did not stay long but seemed to be drawn to the lawn by all the other bird activity.
Fork-tailed Drongo (Mikstertbyvanger / Dicrurus adsimillis)
Making just a single appearance, the Drongo had to put up with being chased by the Fiscal and ended up viewing the action from a distant tree, before flying in for a quick lawn raid then disappearing.
African Hoopoe (Hoephoep / Upupa Africana)
A real loner, the Hoopoe patrolled the quiet edges of the lawn, well out of the way of other species, head down and prodding with its long bill all the way.
Black-headed Oriole (Swartkopwieliewaal / Oriolus larvatus)
The Oriole just sat for a while on a branch with a view of the lawn, didn’t seem to want to get involved and flew off again.