Tag Archives: Verlorenkloof Birding

My Birding Year 2017 (Part 1) – Atlasing, Twitching, Cruising and more


Another memorable Birding Year has come and gone – a year filled once again with travelling to many familiar places and some exciting new ones, atlasing at every opportunity, a number of new birds seen and enough experiences to fill my journal to the brim.

So here’s a synopsis of my birding activities during the year along with photos of a few of the species encountered and places visited. Some of the trips are covered in separate posts in a lot more detail.

January

Our year kicked off in Mossel Bay, our home town for some of the year and I took the opportunity to do some atlasing / birdmapping in the area – Hartenbos and the adjoining inland in particular.

Agulhas Long-billed Lark in full song

On the 9th I had the unexpected thrill of finding a Pectoral Sandpiper, classed as a national rarity, which I duly reported to Trevor Hardaker who sent out a note to all subscribers to the SA Rare Bird News network – what a memorable day!

Pectoral Sandpiper, Hartenbos River weir
SA Rare Bird News report

We started our journey back to Gauteng on the 13th, first stopping over in charming Prince Albert for two nights. I managed to fit in some atlasing in the area including a pleasant trip along the Damascus road.

Familiar Chat, Prince Albert (Damascus road)

Our next stop for one night was at Garingboom guest farm near Springfontein in the Free State which also proved to be an interesting birding destination.

Amur Falcon, Garingboom Guest farm, Springfontein
SA Cliff Swallow, Garingboom Guest farm, Springfontein

Back in Pretoria, my first atlasing was centred around Mabusa Nature Reserve some 100 km north east of Pretoria which was a most enjoyable spot with some challenging roads and good birding

Mabusa Nature Reserve
Yellow-fronted Canary, Mabusa Nature Reserve
Bushveld Pipit, Mabusa Nature Reserve
Mabusa Nature Reserve

February

My first trip of the year to Kasane presented some great birding and atlasing opportunities in the summer lushness of Chobe Game Reserve.

Kasane Forest Reserve
White-crowned Lapwing, Chobe Game Reserve
Chobe Game Reserve
Double-banded Sandgrouse, Chobe Game Reserve

Back in Pretoria I did further atlasing in the Delmas area

Brown-throated Martin, Delmas area

We used our timeshare points for a weekend at Champagne Valley in the Drakensberg, which provided an opportunity for some atlasing in the area

Grey-crowned Crane, Drakensberg south
Drakensberg south
Gurney’s Sugarbird, Drakensberg south

March

Our Canadian family arrived on the 6th for a two week visit which included a Kruger Park visit and a trip to Vic Falls and Chobe Game Reserve

European Roller, Kruger Park
Green-backed Heron (Juvenile), Lake Panic in Kruger Park
White-fronted Bee-eater, Zambezi Cruise
Little Sparrowhawk (Juvenile), Chobe Safari Lodge

Getting back to normal after the excitement of touring with the family, we visited Potchefstroom, and I was happy to take grandson Christopher (6) with me for some birding at the local dam – I think he was more interested in my Prado’s little fridge filled with cold-drinks, but you have to start somewhere!

April

My monthly visit to Kasane, Botswana afforded another opportunity for some birding around Kasane and in Chobe Game Reserve – such a great destination which I try not to spoil with too much work….

Bronze-winged Courser, Kasane Airport perimeter
Western Yellow Wagtail, Kasane Sewage Works

Then it was time for our much anticipated “Flock at Sea” cruise from the 24th to 28th  arranged by Birdlife SA

Flock at Sea Cruise
Flock at Sea Cruise
Black-browed Albatross, Flock at Sea Cruise
White-headed Petrel, Flock at Sea Cruise
Flock at Sea Cruise

May

Another short autumn visit to Mossel Bay meant I could fit in some further atlasing in the Southern Cape

Grey-headed Gull, Mossel Bay
Cape Rock-Thrush (Male), Victoria Bay
Zitting Cisticola, Herbertsdale area

Later in the month Koos and I headed to Bushfellows Lodge near Marble Hall in Mpumulanga for a day’s atlasing (and some snake watching)

Just a week later we spent 4 days at Verlorenkloof also in Mpumulanga with Koos and Rianda, one of our favourite spots for relaxing and blessed with a variety of birding opportunities

Chinspot Batis, Verlorenkloof
Lower dam, Verlorenkloof
Red-throated Wryneck, Verlorenkloof

June

The month kicked off with a visit to Kasane but this time my birding was limited to a rather hurried morning trip into Chobe Riverfront

Yellow-billed Oxpecker, Chobe Game Reserve
Brown Snake Eagle, Chobe Game Reserve

On the 10th Koos and I braved the mid-winter cold and the notoriously dangerous Moloto road north of Pretoria to do some atlasing in NE Gauteng

Marico Sunbird, far north east 4DG

We closed out the half year with our “get away from it all” break in La Lucia near Durban at our timeshare resort – this was interrupted by a breakaway to northern Zululand to view a Malagasy Pond-Heron that had taken up residence at Phinda Game Reserve.

Phinda North KZN
Malagasy Pond-Heron, Mziki dam, Phinda North KZN
Long-tailed Paradise Whydah, Phinda North KZN

In the latter part of the week I visited Pigeon Valley for some superb forest birding

Spotted Ground Thrush, Pigeon Valley Durban
Pigeon Valley Durban
Grey Waxbill, Pigeon Valley Durban

July to December will be covered in the next post – watch this space!

 

Verlorenkloof Estate – a Guide to Birding

Verlorenkloof Estate

Apart from being our favourite place to spend a relaxing week away from it all, Verlorenkloof Estate offers a variety of habitats that make for superb birding opportunities, whether walking, cycling or driving.

The website of the estate describes it better than I can :

“Verlorenkloof Estate is a well established and highly regarded shareblock development and self catering holiday resort on the eastern escarpment in the heart of the trout triangle in Mpumalanga.

Accommodation is in 23 self catering crofts. Each croft is privately situated, thoughtfully designed, fitted, maintained and serviced to a very high standard, making this the best self catering accommodation in Mpumalanga
. 

The surrounding 1600 hectare estate offers many layers of outdoor activities, all in a safe, settled rural environment known for its extraordinarily beautiful and richly biodiverse natural landscapes.”

Finding the Birds

Each time we visit the estate, usually in May or October, we spend a good part of the day birding and over the years have got to know the estate and its variety of habitats well enough to know which species can be expected at a particular spot. The Birding Tips that follow are my view of how to make the most of the time spent at Verlorenkloof if Birding is your preferred pastime.

Birds are season dependent, so not all the migrant species will be present during the non-summer months. Conversely if you visit the estate in the peak summer months there are likely to be many more migrants than we are used to finding.

  1. Around the Crofts

A lot of quality birding can be done in the vicinity of the Crofts and will vary depending on which particular one you are staying in as they are widespread over the property – Croft 2 and 3 are well-known to us. It’s rewarding to spend as much time on the patio as the weather allows and to simply look and listen. An almost constant flow of bird life will pass by, settling in and on the surrounding bush and trees for you to pick them out with your binoculars, in between enjoying a hot or cold beverage or two.

Scan the trees for Dark-capped Bulbul, Sombre Greenbul, Southern Grey-headed Sparrow, Crested Barbet, Arrow-marked Babbler and less frequently Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird and Willow Warbler.  Cape Wagtail, African Stonechat, Cape Rock-Thrush and Yellow-throated Petronia frequent the grassed areas while Red-winged Starling and Buff-streaked Chat like hanging out on the roof of the croft.

Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Verlorenkloof
Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird
Cape Wagtail, Verlorenkloof
Cape Wagtail
African Stonechat (male), Verlorenkloof
African Stonechat (Saxicola torquatus) – Gewone bontrokkie
Cape Rock-Thrush, Verlorenkloof
Cape Rock-Thrush (Montecola rupestris) Kaapse kliplyster
Yellow-throated Petronia, Verlorenkloof
Yellow-throated Petronia
Red-winged Starling, Verlorenkloof
Red-winged Starling
Buff-streaked Chat
Buff-streaked Chat

2. Kloofs and Lower Mountain Slopes

Verlorenkloof
Croft from the lower slopes
Verlorenkloof
Verlorenkloof

If you feel energetic enough, take a walk up the pathway that winds its way up the lower slopes from Croft 2, starting at the weir, although you can spend more time on the patio if you are within hearing distance of the calls which echo down from higher up. Either way you are likely to see/hear Purple-crested Turaco, Narina Trogon, African Hoopoe, Black-collared Barbet, Red-eyed Dove (constantly) , Southern Boubou, Black Cuckoo (monotonously and mournfully), Black-headed Oriole, African Olive Pigeon (late afternoon), Black-backed Puffback, Speckled Pigeon, Klaas’s Cuckoo and Black-crowned Tchagra.

African Olive-Pigeon, Verlorenkloof
African Olive-Pigeon

3. Forested Kloofs

Verlorenkloof
Verlorenkloof
Waterfall trail, Verlorenkloof
Resting spot on the Waterfall trail, Verlorenkloof
Waterfall, Verlorenkloof
Waterfall, Verlorenkloof

Once you have birded the lower slopes, carry on up the slope and follow the path through the first patch of indigenous forest. Stop frequently, sit quietly on a rock or tree stump and listen for the calls of the forest species – Black-throated Apalis and Cape Batis are curious and often the first to appear. Judicious playing of their calls may bring others closer – Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, Chorister Robin, White-starred Robin are all common here.

Cape Batis, Verlorenkloof
Cape Batis
Blue-mantled Flycatcher, Verlorenkloof
Blue-mantled Flycatcher
Chorister Robin-Chat, Verlorenkloof
Chorister Robin-Chat (Cossypha dichroa) – Lawaaimakerjanfrederik

The fringes of the forest are good for Greater Double-collared Sunbird and you are bound to hear or see Olive Bush-Shrike, while Southern Black Tit and African Paradise Flycatcher are sometimes present.

4. The Streams

Lower Dam, Verlorenkloof
A River runs through it

The estate is blessed with several streams that flow down from the surrounding heights and run through the estate into the river which courses through the valley. The reeds and vegetation alongside these waterways are favoured by numbers of birds such as Cape Grassbird, Croaking Cisticola, Spectacled and African Golden Weavers, Southern Red Bishop, Thick-billed Weaver, Yellow-fronted Canary, Cape Canary, Brown-hooded Kingfisher and Dark-capped Yellow Warbler.  Just spending time near the streams sorting out the various calls of these species is an hour or two well spent.

African Golden Weaver (Ploceus xanthops) - Goudwewer
African Golden Weaver (Ploceus xanthops) – Goudwewer

African Golden Weaver, Verlorenkloof

Thick-billed Weaver, Verlorenkloof
Thick-billed Weaver
Thick-billed Weaver, Verlorenkloof
Thick-billed Weaver nest – impeccably constructed
Yellow Canary, Verlorenkloof
Yellow-fronted Canary
Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Verlorenkloof
Brown-hooded Kingfisher (Halcyon albiventris) Bruinkopvisvanger

5.  The Riverside

Along the river it’s a hive of activity in early summer with tens of Village Weavers building nests and generally creating a storm of sound with their chattering calls. Elsewhere Southern Masked-Weavers are slightly less noisy but just as active. The riverside is also favoured by Common Waxbill and Tawny-flanked Prinia with many Barn Swallows using it as a convenient thoroughfare. Just be careful not to disturb any fishermen enjoying the solitude of the River Beat.

Village Weaver
Village Weaver
Common Waxbill, Verlorenkloof
Common Waxbill

6.  Grasslands

Mountain bike trail, Verlorenkloof
Verlorenkloof
, Verlorenkloof
Long grass is a feature of Verlorenkloof

Large tracts of the estate consist of grassland, which are alive with birds at certain times of the day. Apart from the regulars such as Drakensberg Prinia and Lazy Cisticola, with its long tail held upright just like a Prinia, Red-collared Widowbird and the ubiquitous African Stonechat, one of the stars of the Estate is undoubtedly the Broad-tailed Warbler, a sought-after species for most birders. Its curious pinging call announces its presence and then it’s a cat and mouse game to get a good view of it, usually concealed among the long grass stalks.

Drakensberg Prinia, Verlorenkloof
Drakensberg Prinia (Prinia hypoxantha) Drakensberglangstertjie
Red-collared Widow, Verlorenkloof
Red-collared Widow
Broad-tailed Warbler, Verlorenkloof
Broad-tailed Warbler

This is also the favoured habitat of two other Widowbirds – White-winged and Fan-tailed, plus Yellow bishop, Fiscal Flycatcher and Levaillant’s Cisticola in the damper areas. Also favouring the long grass, but terrestrially are Natal Spurfowl and Red-winged Francolin while the shorter grass is good for Helmeted Guineafowl, Swainson’s Spurfowl and Southern Bald Ibis.

White-winged Widowbird, Verlorenkloof
White-winged Widowbird (Euplectes albonatus) – Witvlerkflap
Natal Francolin, Verlorenkloof
Natal Spurfowl
Bald Ibis, Verlorenkloof
Southern Bald Ibis (Geronticus calvus) Kalkoenibis

7.  Aerial Species

There is no shortage of aerial species such as Swallows, both Greater and Lesser-striped often seen perched near the stream as you head to the mountain crofts, sometimes joined by several Grey-rumped Swallows.

Greater Striped Swallow, Verlorenkloof
Greater Striped Swallow
Lesser Striped Swallows, Verlorenkloof
Lesser Striped Swallow (Cecropis abyssinica) – Kleinstreepswael
Grey-rumped Swallow, Verlorenkloof
Grey-rumped Swallow

All the regular Swifts are present – Little, White-rumped, Alpine, African Black and African Palm Swifts, while Martins are represented by Rock and Brown-throated Martins.

8.  The Dams

Lower Dam, Verlorenkloof
Lower Dam, Verlorenkloof
, Verlorenkloof
Fishing dam, Verlorenkloof

The dams are primarily for the fishermen, but when not occupied a few water birds take up residence, including Red-knobbed Coot, Reed Cormorant, Little Grebe and Yellow-billed Duck. In the fringing reeds around the dams there is a chance to listen for Warblers such as Little Rush-Warbler and African Reed-Warbler, while the banks are favoured by Sacred Ibis, Common Moorhen, Blacksmith Lapwing and the ubiquitous Egyptian Geese. This is also a good spot for White-throated Swallow.

Blacksmith Lapwing, Verlorenkloof
Blacksmith Lapwing

9.  Back Roads

Verlorenkloof
A back road
Verlorenkloof
A colourful outbuilding

After exhausting the possibilities of all the above habitats, there is still more on offer along the roads and tracks that run to, from and through the Estate, which can be covered by car or, if you are up to it, by mountain bike. Dust can be a problem so keep windows closed whenever another vehicle approaches. Take it super slow, stop a lot and you are likely to be rewarded with species such as Black Saw-wing, Pearl-breasted Swallow, Southern Black Flycatcher, Pin-tailed Whydah, Pied Starling, Amethyst Sunbird, Malachite Sunbird, Brubru, Steppe Buzzard and even Long-crested Eagle if you are lucky.

Pin-tailed Whydah, Verlorenkloof
Pin-tailed Whydah
Pied Starling, Verlorenkloof
Pied Starling

Spend some time around the dairy and adjacent farmhouse where you can add House Sparrow, Laughing Dove, Red-throated Wryneck, Groundscraper Thrush and Southern Fiscal. The tall Eucalyptus trees on the road down from reception often house a flock of White-fronted Bee-eaters.

White-fronted Bee-Eater
White-fronted Bee-Eater

I can almost guarantee you will leave Verlorenkloof in a relaxed and satisfied frame of mind after a weekend or week spent in this beautiful environment.