Sunday, 30 October 2016

CapeTown (6/6)

The last stretch of our tour included a quick stop at Hermanus for Whale watching. There were no whales but there were a good few birds. A couple of nights at the Devon Valley Hotel near Stellenbosch and three nights in Cape Town. Wherever I looked there were good places to go birding but you have to keep these obsessions in check. It was a holiday not a birding trip. For example my top place to visit in the area was the Strandfontien Sewage Works but I just couldn't see anyway of getting it onto Sue's two day agenda for Cape Town.

Hermanus continued the theme of touristy and up market but it was pleasant to walk around and it did give me a another bird and a couple of Gulls.

Cape Canary

The Grey-headed Gull below is a Juvenile, probably second summer. It will develop a yellow eye as an adult.

Grey-headed Gull

Hartlaub's Gull

I saw plenty of the South African national bird the Blue Crane but all from the coach so no pictures and there were a host of other ducks and water birds on various lakes and ponds that I couldn't stop to identify. Perhaps the only other one that I can claim is the Red-knobbed Coot. I didn't see the red knobs but there doesn't appear to be any other Coots in South Africa to confuse it with.

The hotel was good and again had some decent gardens. The most common bird was the Egyptian Goose. At least in South Africa they really do appear to be wild.

Egyptian Goose

I was out again at dawn but as before the early morning light, or lack of it, made photography difficult. Plenty of birds about but the first picture I managed to get was this Olive Thrush.

Olive Thrush

Pictures of the Cape Robin-chat, Southern Boubou and Pied Crow are not worth posting although this female Common Fiscal was sitting out in some better light.

Female Common Fiscal

Juvenile Red-backed Shrike

Cape White-eye

I missed a raptor that shot out of the trees, across the lawn and back into trees on the other side. Any raptor would do but I was betting on a Goshawk or something similar. When it reappeared from the trees I was ready for it and got a few pictures. I tried hard to match it to another raptor but I can only make it a Peregrine Falcon. All the raptors in Africa and I get one that I can see a few miles from home in the UK.

Peregrine Falcon

Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens was a great place to visit. They have a resident pair of Spotted Eagle Owls that have nested there for years.This species seems to be very tolerant of people. I had already seen one roosting in a tree in a busy car-park in Franschhoek.

The mother and chick were on the ground underneath a tree nesting/roosting in some undergrowth and quite well concealed. The male was up in the tree. The only protection for the nest was a six foot wide taped off area around the nest. It seems amazing that with all the people walking past they do not get scared away. Apparently you do get some people that disturb the mother to try to get her to open her eyes. I am told that some of them end up having a close up face to face with the male.

Spotted Eagle Owl

Much as I would have liked an open eye shot I did not disturb him.

I managed a few more life ticks around the gardens including the Cape Sugarbird and I am sure that if we had been able to follow the trails up onto the flanks of Table Mountain we would have found a lot more.

Cape Sugarbird

Cape Sugarbird

Karoo Prinia

Collared Sunbird

Cape Spurfowl

Swee Waxbill

Yellow-billed Kite

Orange-breasted Sunbird - in the mist on Table Mountain

The final few birds come from a trip down to the Cape of Good Hope. Although I did not photograph it I saw my first Ostrich running free in the National Park there. I am told that if they are in the park they are as close as you will ever get to a wild bird.

Just before Cape Point we saw  hundreds of Terns resting out on the rocks. I searched them all but there was only one species there, the Swift Tern.

Swift Terns

White-breasted Cormorant

Rock Kestrels

 And finally Penguins at the colony at Boulders Beach

African Penguin

African Penguin

A great holiday, very busy but a lot seen. As far as birds go I saw about 120 different species during the two weeks, of which 108 were new birds for me. I managed to photograph all but four of those although I have to say that some of the pictures are less than perfect.

I just cannot stop thinking about the five or six hundred that I didn't get to see!

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Knysna and the Coast (5/6)

We left the Battlefields area and travelled back to Johannesburg to catch an internal flight to George on the south eastern coast. The flight was two hours, the distance to drive from the Battlefields to George would have been over 800 miles. The normal projections of the world on a map really distorts the true size of the countries. South Africa looks to be about the same size as the UK. It is actually over five times bigger. It was a good decision on my part not to self drive the holiday.

Our hotel was in Knysna on the Indian Ocean coast. A beautiful area and much more affluent than the countryside that we had traveled through so far. The hotel grounds were less extensive than I had become accustomed to but it was only a couple of minutes walk down to to the Knysna River estuary and an early morning walk gave me a good selection of birds.

Grey Heron

A Grey Heron, a bit of a disappointment, but on the other side of the tree a Black-headed Heron, much more satisfying.

Black-headed Heron

On the water front, Sacred Ibis, Kelp Gull, Yellow-billed Duck, Reed Cormorant

Sacred Ibis

Yellow-billed Duck

Kelp Gull

Reed Cormorant

There were also a good assortment of birds in the bushes and on the jetty.

Speckled Mousebird

White-throated Swallow

Cape Bulbul

Cape Wagtail

One from Home - Common Sandpiper

Red-wing Starling

Fiscal Flycatcher

African Dusky Flycatcher

Sombre Greenbul

Black-backed Puffback

We had an organised trip in the afternoon that I was looking forward to. It was a boat trip across the estuary to the Featherbed Nature Reserve. The estuary was OK but the nature reserve was a bit of a disappointment. I thought I would have the chance to wander around taking pictures of the birds. Instead it was an organised walk along a set path. I hardly saw a bird at all.

African Black Oystercatcher

Cape Cormorant

Sacred Ibis and Whimbrel

there is always a story about the one that got away. In this case it was a Black-headed Oriole. My first ever Oriole of any kind. I followed the song for about half an hour without seeing the bird. It finally appeared in the top of a tree for a few seconds. I got the shot but of course it had its back towards me and kept its head in a shadow. Not much of a picture but I like it.

Black-headed Oriole

Next the Capetown area.

Friday, 28 October 2016

Swaziland and the Battlefields (4/6)

Being the fourth in my series of blogs on the South Africa Tour. This covers from leaving the Kruger, the trip through Swaziland with a stopover at Pigg's Peak, and then back into South Africa for a visit to the Battlefields area.

This first day was mostly given over to travelling. It is 530 km from Hazeview down to Dundee and the Battlefields Country Lodge, where we were to stay for a couple of nights. We also had a fortuitous, at least for me, three hour stop over just north of Piggs Peak in Swaziland, when the coach broke down. We just made it to the top of a steep hill, to a craft centre and small restaurant, giving what must be some of the best views in Swaziland. Cold beer, great views and Sunbirds in the garden bushes, was OK with me.

Collared Sunbird  Male

Amethyst Sunbird

Southern Double-collared Sunbird

Probably the female of the Southern Double Collared Sunbird 

White-bellied Sunbird

We arrived late at the Battlefields Lodge but next morning I was up early to explore. The grounds were like a green oasis in a rather flat and bleak landscape. That is perhaps being a bit unfair given that it was the end of the dry season in the area and there were still a lot of interesting looking birds flying out there. The ones not flying were the Ostriches, lots of them, but unfortunately these were crossbred farm animals.

A Pied Starling in the early morning light proved to be a bit of a challenge to my photographic skills but a fly over of a pair of Grey-crowned Cranes was a welcome sight.

Pied Starling

Grey-crowned Cranes

Perhaps the most interesting to watch were the Helmeted Guinea Fowl. Headless chickens have nothing on these. They seem to spend the whole day chasing each other round in circles or running up a small hill for what seemed to be the sheer joy of being able to run back down again.

Helmeted Guinea Fowl

Common Fiscal

This species got its name in honour of the fiskaal -- a taxman associated with the Dutch East India company. The fiskaal, who wore black and white whilst doing his job, collected year end (fiscal) taxes, viciously praying on people's money and leaving them hanging "out to dry".

Like all shrikes the Common Fiscal impales its victims on thorns, leaving them "hanging out to dry" until it is hungry. The species is also known as Jacky Hangman, Fiscal Shrike, and along with all other shrikes, the Butcherbird.

Red-billed Quelea

Speckled Pigeon

Cape Weaver

All these species were seen around the lodge gardens. I only saw one new bird on the trip out to look around Isandlwana and Rorke's Drift. About a mile from the Rorke's drift we passed  a few Bald Ibis feeding by the side of the road. I had a choice, walk the mile back to get a picture or do the tour of Rorke's Drift. I chose the tour, for me, it was one of the highlights of the holiday. I thought I might get a picture on the way back out but of course the birds had moved on by then.

The journey to George, Knysna, and then on towards Capetown continues in the next couple of blogs.