1. May 2010
On Saturday the 15th of May 2010, I arrived at Borakalalo entrance gate at an early 6:30 after a 2 hour trip from my home in Johannesburg. The speed humps and potholes tried everything to hinder my trip but to no avail! I followed the route recommended in my birding Bible, The Chamberlain Guide to Birding Gauteng. What a treasure it has proved to be.
What I was not expecting was thick mist. I thought that clouds were my nemesis, but give me clouds any day after trying to get decent pics through the white haze that mist creates in pictures. The mist only cleared around 8:30 so that was somewhat frustrating, but I made the most of the first two hours by walking along the Morotele river (which got me up close to many waterbirds like Cormorants, Fish-Eagle, Giant and Pied Kingfisher, etc. and hanging out at the bridge over the Morotele river and the dam wall.
The bridge over the river yielded some amazing birds - especially the Grey Heron, Green-backed Heron - but unfortunately not a single African Finfoot. Maybe it is a myth - like the Yeti!!!
As the mist cleared I birded around the dam and the dam wall and the fishing areas (there were dozens of Grey Heron and White-breasted Cormorants - it seems to be a breeding area).
At around 10:30 I heading off on the Kololo Drive towards the Ga-Dinonyane bird hides. I saw dozens of birds along the way and enjoyed birding from my car (my mobile hide) as well as stopping at picnic sites and walking along the river front around some of the picnic sites.
At the two hides I used up about 2 hours to see off the hard mid-day sun. I downloaded my pics to my laptop to create space for more pics and just enjoyed watching birds interacting at the wetland (this was the valuable advice I got at the Sasol birding fair workshop with Chris Van Rooyen, when I asked what to do about trying to maximise good daylight while out birding). It was a relaxing and profitable time. I did find myself wishing I had a 400mm lens as the trees in the water where the birds would land were just on the edge of my 300mm lens range. I guess no one is every truly satisfied with their gear.
Around 2pm I headed backed towards the entrance gate and then took the game drive to bird the southern section of the park (the Yellow-billed Stork were a highlight in this are).
I ended up at the Sefudi Dam at around 5pm which allowed me to make my way back to the gate and leave before 6pm. This small dam was not really productive (a lone Cormorant, a Little Grebe and two Red-knobbed Coot which strangely I had not seen all day) but it is a beautiful spot for a good cup of coffee.
I managed to see 70 species on the day - not bad for a outing in Winter - the highlights for me were seeing so many African Fish-Eagle up close, getting really close to Green-backed Heron, getting close up pics of Bennett's and Cardinal Woodpecker and seeing so many bird juveniles that I had not photographed before (including Black Crake, White-breasted Cormorant, Firefinch and Brubru). I only recorded one lifer on the Day (a Brubru) but managed to get better shots of a number of birds that I was not at all disappointed with the day!
I look forward to returning in Summer!
2. August 2010
On Monday the 2nd of August 2010, I made a return trip to Borakalalo arriving at the fresh hour of 6:30 to make the most of the day. I made my way to the bridge over the river that leads to the fishing area and was a little disappointed at the lack of bird life around the actual bridge (it is always dangerous to compare a return visit to the first one). My initial disappointment soon passed as I began to list the bird species that I was seeing, including: Hadeda Ibis, Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill, Magpie Shrike, Lourie, Helmeted Gineafowl and African Fish-Eagle. During the time that I spent wandering up and down the river I saw: Hamerkop, White-breasted Cormorant, Arrow-marked Babbler, Cape Turtle-Dove, Squacco Heron, African Black Duck, Egyptian Goose, Black Crake, Reed Cormorant, Red-knobbed Coot, Little Grebe and African Jacana.
I took the Serelolo loop road along the river and saw Blue Waxbill, Neddicky, African Darter, Giant Kingfisher, Purple Heron, Tawny-flanked Prinia, Natal Spurfowl, White-browed Scrub-Robin, Green-backed Heron, Pied Kingfisher, Swainson's Spurfowl, Malachite Kingfisher, Jameson's Firefinch, Southern Masked Weaver, Chinspot Batis, Black-backed puffback, Southern Red-hornbill and White-throated Robin-Chat. Winter had a great advantage (the last time I went was in the middle of May) in that the thick grass and bush had been greatly reduced so it was possible to get close to the river at just about any point along the road. It led to some really closer encounters with water monitors, two giant Male Nyala, Goliath Heron - but fortunately no snakes!!! Here are a few pics that I took:
I had a brief stop at the quarry along the road where I spotted Dark-capped Bulbul (wow!).
I made my way to the Moretele tented camp in search of the elusive Finfoot and had a great time walking along the river banks where I got to see Crested Francolin, a large flock of Arrow-marked Babbler undisturbed by my presence as they feasted on ants, Woodland Kingfisher, Cape Glossy Starling, Cape Waxbill, Marico Flycatcher and Black-chested Prinia.
I continued on the Serololo Loop and had two, not one, sightings of Pearl-spotted Owlet - the first about 20 metres from the road side, but with the sun behind it, and the other just 10 metres from the roadside and with the sun shining on it. Here are some pics:
Some more spots on the river before reaching the hides at the Ga Dinonyane wetland yielded: Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill, African Fish-Eagle and Three-banded Plover.
I spent a good while at the two hides where I saw: Common Greenshank, Pied Kingfisher, Malachite Kingfisher, Natal Spurfowl, Magpie Shrike, Crimson-breasted Shrike, Brown-hooded Kingfisher and Blacksmith Lapwing.
Completing the rest of the loop did not yield much in the way of bird species apart from Cape Turtle-Dove and African Wattled Lapwing so I made a hastly diversion back to the bridge over the river not expecting to see too much, but a hike along the river up to the dam wall, on both sides of the river respectively, yielded some good sightings including Goliath Heron, Grey Heron, Karoo Thrush and African Grey Hornbill. I had been hoping to see the White-backed Night-Heron and will have to keep those hopes alive for later trips to Bora or other places where this special resides.
It was getting rather warm by now, probably around 22 degrees, so I made my way to the Sefudi hide to see out an hour or so of the hottest park of the day and less than ideal photography conditions with the sun overhead. On my last trip I arrived at Sefudi around 4pm and saw NOTHING - but this time was different - I was happy to see Red-billed Teal, Little Grebe, Grey Heron and Egyptian Geese on the dam. The highlight of my time at the hide was what I saw in the acacia trees to the right of the hide: two lifers presented themselves at long last - Violet-eared Waxbill and Black-faced Waxbill. I also saw both Jameson's Firefinch and Red-billed Firefinch (both male and female) as well as Blue Waxbill, Golden-breasted Bunting, Black-chested Prinia, White-bellied Sunbird and Southern Pied Babbler that arrived as I was leaving.
As I left the hide I screeched to a halt exclaiming - "What is that???" It was a Courses-Korhaan-Bustardish-brown-bird and unfortunately it kept walking away from the road into the road and my autofocus tried everything possible to get decent shots - and even the flying shots were all out of focus (so much for my new approach which uses Manual focus - I had a excitement-induced flash-back to old style. What I saw next would solve the mystery, as would one of the pics that I looked at later of the first sighting - right next to the road - also oblivious to my presence, and seemingly snacking on feathers (???) was a Red-crested Korhaan - and it hung around for a long time before flying off.
I then decided to take the Mutumuga loop along the banks of the dam towards the exit. The area around the southern most tip of the dam was rather priductive with sightings of: Kalahari Scrub-Robin, Burchells' Starling, Grey Heron, Pied Kingfisher, Crested Francolin, Red-billed Teal, African Fish-Eagle, Wood Sandpiper and Black-winged Stilt.
The rest of the drive along the dam towards the exit was incredibly productive (much better at this time of the day than when I last did it around 2pm). Here I saw: Egyptian Goose, Pied Crow, Hamerkop, Magpie Shrike, Groundscraper Thrush, African Spoonbill, Squacco Heron, African Jacana, two brown Eagles that flew off before I could id them or get a decent pic, Southern Black Tit, Bearded Woodpecker, Brown-crowned Tchagra, Blue Waxbill, White-breasted Cormorant, Crested Francolin, Grey Heron, Black-headed Heron (the first of the day), Natal Spurfowl, Red-knobbed Coot, Common Moorhen, Burchell's Coucal, Swainsons Spurfowl, Reed Cormorant, Great Egret and Black Crake.
Realising that traffic on the way back to Joburg would be rather hectic on a Monday afternoon (I recalled that my last trip there on a Saturday was much easier in terms of traffic on the road) and wanting to get home before the night was done, I left the park at around 4:30 - but obviously one does not put the camera away - just as well, because not far from the entrance to the park I spotted a Greater Kestrel perched on a pole:
Oh, the mammals in the park that I saw included: Impala, Giraffe, Badger, Monkey, Buck Buck, Nyala, Waterbuck, Wildebeest, Warthog and Kudu!
At a final count, I saw 77 bird species on the day and picked up 2 lifers. A great outing!!!
3. September 2010
On Thursday the 2nd of September I get a surprise day off for having worked the whole of the previous weekend and obviously there is no better way to spend it than out birding. So Little Birdman and I hit the road at 4:30 heading for Borakalalo. I have been there before but decide to follow my GPS on what seems like a "quicker" route. Yeah right. It leads me north past Brits on the R511, past Roodekopjes Dam towards Vaalkop, and suddenly tells me to turn right on a non-existent road and then says that it has lost signal. Talk about the Twilight Zone! I decide to not retrace my steps but press on towards Thabazimbi and take the Assen to Bora road that I completed this past week. It makes for an enjoyable ride (rather bumpy however) but it means that we only arrive at Bora at 7. Not clever!!!
But on the Assen Road we are treated to sightings of Black-chested Snake Eagle, Lourie, African Spoonbill, Grey Heron, Cape Glossy Starling, Bearded Woodpecker (a male and female sitting on a telephone pole and then flying off to a nearby tree to send their tapping signals), Swainson's Spurfowl, Magpie Shrike, Purple Roller, a male Namaqua Dove and Arrow-marked Babbler. So it is clearly not a waste of our time.
We make then enter the park and make our way to the picnic area to have breakfast - we have been on the road for 3 hours and my 5 year old is famished - but we don't finish off our bowl of cereal as a Pearl-spotted Owlet grabs our attention calling from a tree nearby and we are off to take a closer look:
Nothing else is moving in the picnic area apart from Fork-tailed Drongo, Lourie and Magpie Shrike so we make our way across the river below the dam wall where we see Giant Kingfisher flying up and down the river, Pied Kingfisher hunting fish for breakfast, Lesser Striped Swallow, Black Crake and Reed Cormorant - no Heron like on a previous trip! And just one lonely African Darter.
We drive the road towards the picnic area and I hear some Francolin calling from the bottom of the hill and I am off after them on foot. Before I know it, I have attempted shots as they stay ahead of me, and I am standing on top of the "hill" looking down on my matchbox car in the distance! And I swear that I hear them giggling on the other side of the hill about how they made a grown man climb a mountain in vain!!! Hhhm - Obsessive compulsive? Time for therapy!
As I rejoin my son near my car we we see four female Amethyst Sunbird in a bush, joined by a male and can't recall ever seeing so many together in one place. Blue Waxbill are EVERYWHERE - dozens of the little chaps - and not mixed feeding parties either - clearly winter is over! A Southern Black Tit gives us tantalising views - and one shot shows it in the midst of a parallel bar dismount. A Grey-backed Camoroptera flies off leaving me with just a record shot and kicking myself that my settings were wrong. Before we leave the spot we see a Groundscraper Thrush sitting in a tree calling for a mate.
We make our way down to the picnic site at the fishing area not too happy because the road from the river to the picnic area is supposed to yield Double-banded Sandgrouse - which is one of the main reasons why I decided to visit Bora again. We drive through the fishing area and spot Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Natal Spurfowl, Squacco Heron, Crested Francolin, White-breasted Cormorant, African Jacana, Hadeda Ibis, Green-backed Heron, Egyptian Goose, Common Moorhen, Three-banded Plover, Black Crake, Blacksmith Lapwing, Neddicky, Southern Masked Weaver and Burchell's Starling right next to the water.
Just as we are making our way towards to the further most point along the shore that the road reaches, a Francolin grabs my eye - and I am immediately overwhelmed to realise that the mustard colour head can only belong to Coqui Francolin - a Lifer for me! There were about 4 of them - a male and females and they are walking away from the dam - probably after their morning drink. I snap away furiously trying to get some decent pics as they get further and further away from me. This time I resist the urge to follow on foot - that did not work earlier on the day!
As we park and have our yoghurt and coffee, a Black Crake comes out of the reeds right in front of our vehicle and starts to dig around in the mud. It is a great sighting.
We decide to take a walk to the most northerly part of the dam (something I have not done before) and we see Green-backed Heron, Squacco Heron, Lilac-breasted Roller, Magpie Shrike, African Grey Hornbill, Chestnut-vented Tit-babbler, Cinnamon-breasted Bunting, another Pearl-spotted Owlet, a Pipit (possibly Bushveld but the supercilium looks really white and pronounced), Burchell's Starling, Red-billed Hornbill, Marico Flycatcher, African Wattled Lapwing, Cape Turtle-Dove, Levaillant's Cisticola and Marico Sunbird. We pause to snap some scenery pics along the way as well - the views from the far reaches of the dam are incredible.
As we make our way back to the car I see, in the distance, a large pigeon-like bird and even with my 300mm zoom lens can't really see what it is. Only later when I get home and process the pics do I suddenly realise that I have captured my first ever sighting of Double-banded Sandgrouse. I know that if this was the only pic I got on the day, I would be less than impressed:
We head back to the Moretele River and see a wader that is later identified as Common Sandpiper. It continually bobs its hind parts - this behaviour would be of great help in making the id. In the area we also spot more Blue Waxbill, Fork-tailed Drongo and Arrow-marked Babbler.
We head to the Ga-Dinonyane Hides and spend a good hour or more here enjoying seeing Malachite Kingfisher, Black-chested Prinia, an immature Green-backed Heron, Southern Black Tit (this time a bit closer and willing to pose), Magpie Shrike, Crimson-breasted Shrike, Common Waxbill, Laughing Dove, White-browed Sparrow-Weaver, Yellow-fronted Canary, Red-billed Firefinch, Natal Spurfowl and a wader that is rudely chased away by Blacksmith Lapwing - I believe it could be Common Greenshank.
As we continue along Tholo loop we search in vain for Meyer's Parrot and even the picnic site yields adds not a single bird to our growing list. As head continue I startle four birds that must have been crouching down right next to the side of the road - and watch in my rear view mirror as they land about 75 metres back along the road. I am convinced they look like Sandgrouse. So I back up to the spot where I saw them land and we find nothing. I second guess myself and back up another 25 metres and then forward a bit more - thinking that they must have run off in the grass. Suddenly I am looking at two of the most beautiful birds I have seen and they are looking at me - not more then 3 metres from my window - Double-banded Sandgrouse. I move my camera up to take a shot thinking they are going to fly off for sure before I get a single shot off - but not so - they hang around. In fact, after taking about 20 shots - and the 2 of them don't move from their position my memory card chooses that moment to announce that it has received more than it can handle and as I start digging in my camera bag for another card the Sandgrouse decide this is their cue to start walking away. Boy are they smart!!! I finally get reloaded and manage to get some more shots and some shots as they fly off into the distance. Stunning experience!!!
Just around the corner we stop to take a pic of a Yellow-billed Hornbill and catch our breath at what we have just experienced.
We take another walk to the mouth of the dam and this time see Goliath Heron, Purple Heron, Grey Heron, Red-knobbed Coot, Red-billed Hornbill, African Jacana, African Darter, White-faced Duck and an African Fish-Eagle hunting on the dam.
We decide it is time to do the game drive on the southern shore of the dam and see Grey Heron, Great Crested Grebe, Burchell's Coucal, Goliath Heron, African Jacana, Lilac-breasted Roller, Little Egret, Yellow-billed Egret, Spur-winged Goose, Violet-eared Waxbill and a Bushveld Pipit (possibly!).
We arrive the bus parking area (point 18 in Birding Gauteng, chapter 43) and see a large flock of waders on the shoreline. After studying the pics and getting help from the forum, it seems like the group included: Ruff, Little Stint (a lifer for me) and Curlew Sandpiper (another lifer).
As we continue further along the shore we spot Cape Shoveler, Crested Francolin, Swainson's Spurfowl, Hamerkop, African Spoonbill, Sacred Ibis, Blacksmith Lapwing, Red-billed Teal, Egyptian Goose, White-faced Duck, Burchell's Starling, Reed Cormorant, Red-billed Hornbill, Black-winged Stilt, Yellow-billed Duck, three Squacco Heron resting in a tree on the other side of the dam, and an African Fish-Eagle hunting up and down the dam.
Where the dam ends in a wetland inlet I take some pics of a Francolin and suddenly spot a Double-banded Sandgrouse and then another and another. The light is fading and the shadows are long so the pics are not great but it is always great to see more than one sighting of a Lifer in a day.
We make a hasty journey to Sefudi Dam realising that we don't have much sunlight left and are somewhat disappointed by what we see on the dam: two Red-Billed Teal, Little Grebe, Arrow-marked Babbler and Cape Glossy Starling. Laughing Dove and Speckled Pigeon are drinking in numbers.
One of our last bird sightings in the park, on the way to the gate, is of Swainson's Spurfowl. Oh, and spotting a pair of White Rhino in the park for the first time also allows us to tick off Red-billed Oxpecker for the day.
We reflect on the biodiversity we have seen in the park during the day and recall that we saw: Water Monitor, Impala, Nyala, Zebra, Wildebeest, Black-backed Jackal, Giraffe, Waterbuck, Bushbuck and White Rhino. Here are a few pics:
At the main gate we catch a brief sighting of a Brown-hooded Kingfisher near the entrance gate and offices. And apart from a Black-shouldered Kite on the tar road outside the park we realise that we are done and recount the many highlights. A day in which we see 87 bird species and capture four Lifers - now that is an Ayoba day!!!
4. October 2010
On Saturday the 23rd October 2010 I treated my family to an outing to Borakalalo National Park (they enjoy birding, but need to know they might see animals along the way, so Bora seemed like a great compromise!). Once more as I negotiated ALL the speed humps through ALL the villages (and around ALL the potholes) I wished that some wealthy benefactor could fund a double lane highway from Joburg to Bora! But it is all worthwhile when you arrive and start to bird. Before we arrived at the entrance gate we spotted a Yellow-billed Kite on a telephone pole:
And then a Lifer appeared out of nowhere - a Gabar Goshawk - also sitting on a telephone pole:
We had a fabulous time right at the gate chatting to one of the rangers who said that he had completed a birding course at Wakkerstroom and he pointed our many different birds in the grounds to us - he did mention that there are 9000 bird species in the park, so maybe a refresher course would be great! I also got to complete and submit my first ever field report as a newly registered Observer so it was a special day in many respects!!!
Are the entrance gate we spotted Cape-Turtle Dove, Magpie Shrike, Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill, Grey-Go-away-bird, Cape Glossy Starling, Purple Roller (the second pic I got of it in flight is almost a great shot!), Southern Masked Weaver, Southern Pied Babbler, Marico Sunbird, Amethyst Sunbird, Dark-capped Bulbul, Fork-tailed Drongo, Lilac-breasted Roller and White-browed Scrub-Robin. The light was terrible so not many pics from this hour made the cut!
We then headed down to the Moretele River and took a walk along the northern bank towards the dam wall were we saw: Green-backed Heron, Grey-headed Kingfisher (another lifer for the day - which meant that I had entered the 400 club!!!), African Fish-Eagle, Lesser Striped Swallow, Egyptian Goose, Pearl-breasted Swallow, Hamerkop, African Darter, Kurrichane Thrush, White-throated Swallow.
We headed off to the fishing area and checked out the shoreline where we saw Natal Spurfowl, Reed Cormorant, Red-knobbed Coot, Blacksmith Lapwing, Three-banded Plover, Black-winged Stilt, Little Grebe and Red-billed Hornbill. My wife and I then left our two kids behind, one reading a book and the other (Little Birdman) breaking an uprooted bush into twigs (maybe to help birds with their nest building!), to explore the inlet area of the dam. The area is really in need of water as the water level in the dam is really low:
On the way to the river inlet we saw Blue Waxbill, Tawny-flanked Prinia, Pied Kingfisher, White-rumped Swift, Little Egret, Marico Flycatcher, Common Greenshank, Black-winged Stilt and Ruff:
We also were thrilled to see a Yellow-billed Kite land at the waters edge and proceed to drink - it was not too far from us and a special moment of the day! Here is the sequence of pics that I captured. I did not date move closer out of fear of chasing it away:
We then decided to do something I have never done before - to continue walking around the dam to explore the eastern shoreline. It was an awesome experience in which we got up close to two Giraffe and also got to saw all the birds that were hanging out on that side of the dam (probably because the western shoreline was choc-a-bloc with fishermen.
Along the way we saw Common Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper, White-breasted Cormorant, Sacred Ibis, Common Greenshank, Ruff, Three-banded Plover, and Grey Heron. These birds were hanging out in big groups as the first pic shows (the poor quality flying pics are only shown to confirm the id of the waders):
As I was snapping away I looked up and saw, what I assume is, a raptor flying over my head with a fish in it's talons - I have no idea how Debbie and I missed the moment where it swooped down to snatch the fish out of the dam (it has been identified as an Osprey - a Lifer for me!):
We then headed back to the Moretele River and made our way towards the Moretele Campsite (once again I would be hopeful to see African Finfoot and once again I would commit to returning again for another try) and spent some time at the picnic site enjoying the river spots. I was also hoping to see Meyer's Parrot and I played a call and two appeared by flew away to a quieter spot before I could get a pic (a Lifer gets away!!!). Here we saw: African Fish-Eagle, Bar-throated Apalis, Neddicky and Southern Masked Weaver. A female monkey with a child was a nice sighting too:
On the way to the bird hides we saw Shrike_Magpie, Black-headed Tchagra, Neddicky, Arrow-marked Babbler and Jameson's Firefinch. At the hide we saw only 2 birds: Long-billed Crombec and African Spoonbill! The spot was bone dry! We did get to see some Kudu on the way back towards the dam.
We headed back to the dam and took the Kgwadiri drive along the shoreline. We came across the biggest flock of Lesser Flamingo that I have ever seen. In fact, I think I have only ever seen a lone Lesser Flamingo among a flock of Greater Flamingo - so it was a really special sight!
Along the shoreline we also saw Common Moorhen, Helmeted Guineafowl, Pied Crow, Yellow-billed Duck, Red-billed Teal, White-breasted Cormorant, Burchell's Starling, Klittlitz's Plover, Little Stint and Groundscraper Thrush.
We were surprised to see a Red-crested Korhaan about 30 meters from the roadside and it walked right past us - making a great photo opportunity:
Something that I only spotted when I processed my photos was a number of Yellow-billed Stork among birds on an island in the middle of the dam - outside my camera range but they are identifiable:
We also got to see some Mongoose up closer:
We needed to leave earlier than I normally do from Bora, to get back to Johannesburg to fetch my teenage son from a friend, so we reluctantly dragged ourselves away without having made it to Sefudi Dam. But it was not easy getting back to Johannesburg - not because of the speed-humps, but all the raptors on the telephone poles. The first one turned out to be Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk (Who named it? Talk about a mouthful!):
The second one we all believed, after paging through our bird books, that we were looking at a Black Kite - which would have been a lifer for me. But thanks to "friends" on this bird forum it was seriously down graded to Steppe Buzzard. Sad! Bit still a great sighting!
We also saw a couple of European Bee-eater:
It was an awesome day birding with my family!!! Two unexpected lifers and a new milestone of getting to 400 on my Southern African life list was a special moment.
5. February 2011
On Monday the 21st of February I headed off well before dawn to Borakalalo Nature Reserve about an hour north of Brits. I arrived as the sun was rising and experienced mostly blue skies and fine weather for birding. I managed to get close to a lot of bird species that I have seen before, but not necessarily gotten great shots of. Here are some of my highlights:
The Kingfishers were out in force - apart from African Pygmy Kingfisher which I am yet to catch sight of!
A special highlight was seeing a Dwarf Bittern not more than 2 meters from my car window - it allowed me to take about 4 shots before it flew off away from the little swamp area to the other side of the Moretele river. I was deserately hoping to catch sight of the rare White-backed Night-Heron but I guess I'll have to be satisfied with this sighting for now!
Another surprise was seeing a Red-billed Oxpecker in the middle of nowhere - sitting on a power line far away from any wild animals. It allowed me to get my first close sightings of this species:
Another highlight was a very close up sighting of Cardinal Woodpecker - which not only ignored me as it pounded away at the branches, but even came closer to me to work on another branch!
This shot is really special. I saw the African Darter when I was taking the shot and also the Common Sandpiper (although it is the first time I have seen it on a branch and not on the sand). But what I did not spot is the Water Monitor on the branch behind the African Darter. Maybe I need glasses or a better viewer on my camera.
It was also a day for raptors. I managed to see Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk, female Gabar Goshawk, juvenile African Fish-Eagle, Yellow-billed Kite, Steppe Buzzard and two juvenile Shikra having fun in the sky for my entertainment (I initially thought it was my first sighting of African Goshawk - but that was not to be!). Here are some pics I managed to take:
6. August 2011
On the 1st of August 2011 I spent my Monday off from 7am to 5pm at Borakalalo Nature Reserve (about an hour north of Brits). Clearly winter was still not over as there were no migrants around, no Bee-eaters, no Warblers anywhere (and I walked up and down almost the entire length of the Moretele river) - but it was still a great day out and I got to see 82 bird species (and to be honest I started the day not too worried about recording what I was seeing as I was actually just looking for Meyer's Parrot and the mythical Finfoot (neither of which graced me with their presence).
I finally stumbled across the actual Moretele Walking Trail. I had thought previously that it was the area up and down the river around the Camping site and the Tented Camp site. But as it turns out you have to travel past the Camping site, past the tented camp site, then past the Honorary Officer Camp Site (which is a private section) and then look for the unmarked rock/concrete pillar than marks the start of the trail (and a kilometer or so further down the road the trail leads back to the dirt road with a similar marker). It provides an opportunity to walk along the river for a significant distance - with the hope of seeing African Finfoot and White-backed Night-Heron (the two specials of the area). Here is some pics to help you find the start of the trail:
The only waders on the banks of the river were a lone Common Sandpiper and Three-banded Plover. It was special to see Lesser Honeyguide in the reserve there for the first time (my pics unfortunately in the shadows are not worth posting). A highlight of the day was seeing a family of 5 Burnt-necked Eremomela in a tree near to the road (close to the old quarry):
It was also good to meet up again with the Red-crested Korhaan than lives in the southern most section of the park not far from Sefudi Dam - this time there was a pair of them:
Two White-browed Scrub-Robins gave me some fairly close views in front the left Ga-Dinonyane bird hide (and I also discovered that there is a large wetland next to the right bird hide that I had not seen before - it is also not visible from inside the hide):
I got to sneak up on two Giraffe accompanied by a few Red-billed Oxpeckers (oh and a squirrel caught my attention too):
My last sighting for the day was that of a Shikra:
Here is a selection of other bird photos that I took on the day:
In case you are considering whether a trip to the spot is worth doing before Spring finally arrives, here is a full list of the bird species that I saw: Emerald Spotted Wood-Dove; Southern Black Tit; Bearded Woodpecker; Black-faced Waxbill; Violet-eared Waxbill; Blue Waxbill; African Firefinch; Cardinal Woodpecker; Chinspot Batis; Tawny-flanked Prinia; Black-chested Prinia; Southern Pied Babbler; Burnt-necked Eremomela; Bar-throated Apalis; Lesser Honeyguide; Grey-backed Camoroptera; Black-backed Puffback; Kurrichane Thrush; Groundscraper Thrush; Familiar Chat; Three-banded Plover; White-breasted Cormorant; Reed Cormorant; Green-backed Heron; Grey Heron; Southern Black Flycatcher; Fork-tailed Drongo; Common Sandpiper; Yellow-fronted Canary; Arrow-marked Babbler; Levaillant's Cisticola; Neddicky; Rattling Cisticola; Dark-capped Bulbul; Southern Boubou; White-throated Robin-Chat; Yellow-billed Hornbill; Common Fiscal; Southern Red-billed Hornbill; Pied Kingfisher; Giant Kingfisher; Magpie Shrike; Grey Go-away-bird; Helmeted Guineafowl; Cape Glossy Starling; White-bellied Sunbird; Common Moorhen; Black Crake; Natal Spurfowl; Burchell's Starling; Blacksmith Lapwing; Crowned Lapwing; Crested Francolin; Jameson's Firefinch; Burchell's Coucal; Little Grebe; Red-knobbed Coot; African Darter; Egyptian Goose; Great Egret; Brown-hooded Kingfisher; African Jacana; Chestnut-vented Tit-babbler; Sacred Ibis; Goliath Heron; Red-billed Oxpecker; Red-billed Teal; Double-banded Sandgrouse; Crimson-breasted Shrike; Brown-crowned Tchagra; Marico Flycatcher; Green-winged Pytilia; Black-throated Canary; Laughing Dove; Red-eyed Dove; Red-crested Korhaan; Swainson's Spurfowl; Bushveld Pipit; African Black Duck; Lilac-breasted Roller; Shikra, Long-billed Crombec and White-browed Scrub-Robin.
This trip brings my list of sightings for this great spot to 163.
Here are two trip reports that I have just created for back to back Monday outings to Borakalalo:
7. September 2011 - Trip 1
On Monday the 5th September 2011 after hearing about sighting of African Finfoot and White-backed Night-Heron at Borakalalo National Park I spent my Monday there and was fortunate enough to get a few sightings of the White-backed Night-Heron. Sadly even though I walked every square meter of the river on both sides I never did get a sighting of the elusive African Finfoot. The highlight happened when I had almost given up on either the Heron or the Finfoot. I was heading towards my car, past the Weir on the north side of the river - when I spotted a Heron fly into a tree in front of me - and knew that it was the White-backed chap! Unfortunately it never spent long enough at rest for a decent shot - so here are some flying shots I managed to take - in the 4th pic you can see some white colouration on the back.
Another highlight was seeing an adult and a juvenile Black-crowned Night-Heron (two Night-Heron's on one day is a good birding day!!!)
I also had a nice fly-by from an African Fish-Eagle:
Here are some other pics from the day:
There were so many water monitors around that I almost stopped getting a heart attack each time that they would take off a few meters from me heading for the safety of the water:
8. September 2011 - Trip 2
On Monday the 12th September I headed back to Borakalalo - I set up the trip for a fellow birder who at the last minute was hospitalised so could not join me. I nearly cancelled the trip in favour of another destination - but I am SO glad that I did not! More of that in a while!
I arrived before the sun rose and was surprised to find that most of the length of the river all the way down to the tented camp had been burned. In fact, during the day the guys were burning more areas of the reserve along the river - it was rather scary at times as I was on foot and only the river separated me from the inferno. The sound of trees exploding 30 meters away is something else.
My focus for the day was to find the African Finfoot that has eluded me for the past 18 months! I stopped off at bridge over the river - scanned either side and decided to head towards the weir, where I was able to photograph the Half-collared Kingfisher that was seen on the weekend. The sun was just coming up and on the wrong side of the river anyway so all I have is a proof shot. This is only the second time I have seen this Kingfisher as far as I recall (the first time was at Wakkerstroom).
I was hunting up and down the river - and gave up on the south side because the morning sun was so harsh and in my face (I did manage to get a few shots of the Half-collared Kingfisher that WTM saw on the weekend - not a lifer however) - and decided to walk the north side of the river (by the way the whole place has been burned by the staff of the reserve - but they were busy burning today and it was a bit scary on a few occasions - trees would literally explore!). Back to my story, I intended to move quickly to the area past the weir - but for some reason decided to take a quick peek at the river not more than 100 meters or so from the bridge. I disturbed two African Black Duck and heard a warbler call...
As I picked up my phone to double check that it was Lesser Swamp Warbler (novice!!!), the water right below the bank where I was standing exploded and a "duck" ran on water towards the safety of the reeds on the other side. I must have had about 3 seconds to react - and I knew instantly that it was the bogey bird that I have been hunting for since January 2010!!! The Finfoot! It skidded to a half, took a left turn to give me the stare and I managed to fire about 6 shots before it disappeared! There was nowhere that it could have gone to except deeper into the reeds or up the bank - and 2 hours later I gave up getting! Oh, if you look at the last pic, it looks like it might have stepped in some orange paint!!!!!
Here is a pic of the spot where the Finfoot hid from me!
I decided to walk the further up the river on the north side but it was rather uneventful after seeing the African Finfoot! I did disturb a water monitor that took off in front of me over the recently burned ground:
I also took a few pics of the fire burning that was happening while I was there (you can see that the burning was taking place right where I had seen the Finfoot earlier on the day. In fact I was actually sitting there hoping that it would smoke the bird out so I could get some more pics - but the guys had burned a fire break to ensure the reeds were not harmed!
These two Waders puzzled me - and unfortunately I don't have many more pics to give more to go on. I'm thinking Little Stint and Common Sandpiper. Their size difference was amazing!
The other birds I spotted in the few hours I spent there include Crested Francolin, Natal Spurfowl, Pied Kingfisher, Giant Kingfisher, Lesser Swamp Warbler, African Darter, Reed Cormorant, White-breasted Cormorant, Tawny-flanked Prinia, Black-headed Oriole, Hamerkop, - but to be honest, I was so focussed on the Finfoot that nothing else really could distract me! I did not get another sighting of the White-backed Night-Heron that I saw the previous week. Here are a few other pics that I took:
On my way out of the reserve I spotted a Purple Roller:
That 10 seconds with the Finfoot is by far the highlight of my 9 months birding in 2011!!!
9. September 2011 - Trip 3
On Saturday 17th September 2011 I headed back to Borakalalo - this time with a fellow birder - hoping to spot the Finfoot and Night-Heron. We decided to walk the north bank of the river all the way from the bridge to beyond the Moretele Campsite. We had a dramatic encounter when we arrived at the spot where I had seen the Finfoot a few days back. A leopard was probably drinking on the opposite side of the river and took fright when we arrived on the other bank. It went racing up the hill and disappeared up on the mountain above the river. We were so surprised to encounter a Leopard while on foot that we only thought of taking photos once the reality of what we were experiencing had sunk in - but by then it was about 75 meters away from us. Here is the best of my pics:
We had decent sightings of most of the Kingfishers along the river - apart from the Grey-headed Kingfisher which I saw along this river some months back.
Here are photos of the other water birds that we saw on the river:
It was a fair day for raptors with a few sighting of African Fish-Eagle (and finding their nest not far from the river near the tented camp area), Yellow-billed Kite (on the dam near the fishing area) and a great and up close sighting of Little Sparrowhawk near the bird hides.
Here is a selection of other birds we saw around the river:
We had a close encounter with a family of Sable - the first time I have seen this species in the park, as well as Nyala.
I am finally getting used to being surprised by Water Monitors suddenly taking off close to me to get to the safety of the water - some of these chaps were really huge! The Warthog, on the other hand, headed away from the water when we surprised him!
9. November 2011
My wife and I left home at 4am for Borakalalo. Nothing could have prepared us for the extreme heat we encountered there. We left the place at 11:30. Our target was to locate the Grey Plover that had been spotted there a week before (chances seemed slim) but we were in luck and found it along the shoreline. We also had another sighting of the two adult White-backed Night-Heron as well as many Black-crowned Night-Heron and Green-backed Heron. Some raptor sightings included Steppe Buzzard, Yellow-billed Kite, Gabar Goshawk and African Fish-Eagle. A few other highlights included Kittlitz's Plover, hundreds of European Rollers, White Rhino, Black-backed Jackal, etc, etc. The Plover was really skittish and did not let me get closer than 30 meters or so (just not close enough to get "the shot". The two adult White-backed Night-Heron were resting in a tree overlooking the river (between the bridge and the weir) and took off after I had taken 6 shots - never to be seen again. Here are a few pics from our morning out:
10. December 2011
On Friday the 30th December we (SafariRanfer, Vanga and RustyJusty and I) headed out to Borakalalo long before dawn. We headed straight to the spot where I have previously had encounters with African Finfoot and White-backed Night-Heron but despite walking along both banks for about a kilometer they were nowhere to be found. We headed to the Moretele Campsite and as we walked past the first tent I spotted a female Finfoot just below the bank. She did her normal trick of walking on water to get to safety in the thickets on the opposite bank a little way downstream.
We spent some time looking for her downstream with no luck, meanwhile RustyJusty was spending quality time watching her a little further upstream. It is a pity we can't be in 2 places at the same time.
We did some birding around the rest of bush area (seeing two brief sighting of Eurasian Golden Oriole - a bird I have been dying to see). Before heading off to bird the dam.
One of the birding highlights apart from the Finfoot was seeing African Pygmy Kingfisher - only the second sighting that I have ever had - and also seeing Grey-headed Kingfisher on the day as well as a close view of female Greater Painted-Snipe. Here are some pics that I took:
A real highlight was seeing a juvenile Black-backed Jackal close to the road on the way to the Sefudi bird hide.
We came away with a list of 134 species on the day and the lifer for me in the Eurasian Golden Oriole (this brings my list of birds spotted in the reserve to 197). I have after lots of persuading by fellow birders to move away from my policy of only claiming a lifer once I have photographed the bird. I will be working on sight and sound from now on and then look to secure photographs. This does mean that my life list moves up slightly to 557 of birds seen. I will be keeping a list of birds that will become photo lifers for me.
11. September 2012
On Monday the 17th September a friend and I arrived at Borakalalo National Park as the sun rose. The place was incredibly dry. Sefudi Dam was bone dry as were the 2 little "dams" at the "wetland" past the Moretele River tented camp. The dam itself was rather full and the river flowing strongly. Sadly we did not see Finfoot on the day even though we worked hard to spot it. We did see Green-backed Heron and Black-crowned Night-Heron (no White-backed this time). By the time we left round 3pm we had seen a total of 104 species.
Some of the highlights were 2 sighting of Bennett's Woodpecker, Yellow-throated Petronia, Red-crested Korhaan, Grey-headed Bush-Shrike, lots of Fish-Eagles, black-chested Snake-Eagle, White-crested Helmet-Shrike, Greater Honeyguide, Coqui Francolin and Brubru.
Here are some images:
There were surprisingly few raptors around on the day - lots of African Fish-Eagle, but just this Black-chested Snake-Eagle and two vultures soaring above the mountain that we thought were probably Cape Vulture:
I have NEVER seen so many giraffe in all my life! They were everywhere. And a group of Sable were stunning to see as were Mountain Reedbuck. Here are a few images of the mammals we saw:
Here is a full list of the birds we saw:
1 Spurfowl Natal
2 Hornbill Southern Red-billed
3 Drongo Fork-tailed
4 Starling Cape Glossy
5 Babbler Southern Pied
6 Oxpecker Red-billed
7 Tit-Babbler Chestnut-vented
8 Spurfowl Swainson's
9 Tit Southern Black
10 Batis Chinspot
11 Bushshrike Grey-headed
12 Darter African
13 Cormorant Reed
14 Eagle African Fish
15 Babbler Arrow-marked
16 Heron Green-backed
17 Plover Three-banded
18 Kingfisher Pied
19 Dove Laughing
20 Helmetshrike White-crested
21 Tchagra Brown-crowned
22 Prinia Tawny-flanked
23 Thrush Kurrichane
25 Heron Grey
26 Jacana African
27 Grebe Little
28 Camaroptera Grey-backed
29 Crake Black
30 Kingfisher Brown-hooded
31 Heron Black-crowned Night
32 Swallow Lesser Striped
33 Chat Familiar
34 White-eye Cape
35 Bunting Golden-breasted
36 Crombec Long-billed
37 Bulbul Dark-capped
38 Spoonbill African
39 Waxbill Blue
40 Hornbill Southern Yellow-billed
41 Duck African Black
42 Thrush Karoo
43 Go-away-bird Grey
44 Weaver Southern Masked
45 Dove Red-eyed
46 Puffback Black-backed
47 Lapwing African Wattled
48 Greenshank Common
49 Stilt Black-winged
50 Woodpecker Bennett's
51 Francolin Crested
52 Sparrow-Weaver White-browed
53 Sparrow Southern Grey-headed
54 Firefinch Red-billed
55 Roller Lilac-breasted
56 Honeyguide Greater
57 Guineafowl Helmeted
58 Dove Emerald-spotted Wood
60 Cormorant White-breasted
61 Coucal Burchell's
62 Ibis Hadeda
63 Grebe Great Crested
64 Myna Common
65 Starling Burchell's
66 Stint Little
67 Lapwing Blacksmith
68 Sandpiper Common
69 Egret Western Cattle
70 Shrike Magpie
71 Ibis African Sacred
72 Moorhen Common
73 Egret Western Great
74 Heron Squacco
75 Waxbill Common
76 Egret Little
77 Barbet Crested
79 Wood-hoopoe Green
80 Heron Black-headed
81 Thrush Groundscraper
82 Dove Cape Turtle
83 Duck Yellow-billed
84 Coot Red-knobbed
85 Sandpiper Wood
87 Teal Red-billed
88 Pochard Southern
89 Shrike Crimson-breasted
90 Eagle Black-chested Snake
91 Ostrich Common
92 Petronia Yellow-throated
93 Heron Goliath
94 Korhaan Red-crested
95 Starling Red-winged
96 Francolin Coqui
97 Crow Pied
98 Sparrow Cape
99 Pigeon Speckled
100 Dove Rock
101 Lapwing Crowned
102 Kite Black-winged
103 Swift African Palm
104 Flycatcher Fiscal