On Monday the 20th September 2010 I arrived at Donaldson Dam (chapter 79 in Birding Gauteng) as the sun was rising and to be honest did not have high expectations for the spot which is given a very short write up in Birding Gauteng. The manager of the site at the office, Lawrence, wavered the entrance fee as I was coming to bird and not to fish. I made my way down to the dam and took a left turn to explore the western side of the dam. I did not see many birds on the dam apart from a few Sacred Ibis, Hadeda Ibis, Egyptian Geese, Common Mynah and Speckled Pigeon. I started to second guess my decision to postpone a trip to Loskop Dam (due to bad weather forecasts) and instead visit this dam. But the scenery sort of made up for what was lacking in bird life.
The sun was really harsh over the dam and even though Lawrence warned me to not venture to the eastern side of the dam due to the proximity of the informal settlement, I knew that I had to be on the other side. The fence is damaged in many places, but I never felt unsafe and was warmly greeted by every one that I met - guys on the way to work. I spent a bit of time on the causeway across the river that leads into the dam and then explored the reed section of the dam. Here I started to realise that there the dam was actually teeming with birds, including Southern Masked Weaver, Red-knobbed Coot, Common Fiscal, Helmeted Guineafowl, Cattle Egret, Black-headed Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron, Common Moorhen, Greater Striped swallow, Reed Cormorant, Blacksmith Lapwing, Yellow-billed Duck, Long-tailed Widowbird, Black Crake, African Purple Swamphen, Crowned Lapwing, Red-knobbed Coot and Malachite Kingfisher (hunting on the second dam to the north). Dozens of Egret are either breeding in the reeds or hunting the fish that are apparently spawning in the river mouth.
These two reed chaps left me a bit unsure as to their id - the first I think is Levaillant's Cisticola, and the second is...?
And of course there has to be a Pipit that is unidentified - otherwise it is not a good outing (this was subsequently identified as African Pipit):
I travelled to the dam wall area and saw Red-throated Wryneck, Three-banded Plover and spent a bit of time watching Copper Ducks (the name that the manager used for the South African Shelduck) interact with each other - it looks like a male was making a move on a mom and her chick and the jealous husband was teaching the young upstart a lesson in manners and respect. It led to some explosive dive bombing and splashing while the chick watched in bewilderment.
The highlight of my day took place when I made my way back to the reed area and saw a "flock" of about 8 what looked like Common Waxbill - but suddenly I saw a flash of yellow and knew that I had finally found Orange-breasted Waxbill (okay, I had to open my copy of Roberts in the car to make sure). Sure enough this group spent quite a bit of time in the reeds in front of me and I was able to at least record 1 lifer for the day. One more than I expected to be judging on the list of bird species mentioned in Birding Gauteng.
I made my way back to the Western side of the dam, took a walk around the reed area before spending some time in the picnic area. I spotted some Karoo Thrush and a pair of Cape Wagtail in the process of building their nest under a lapa (see the pic). What was amazing was how the female gathered dozens of feathers in her mouth before flying off to the nest to deposit them at one time. She gets an A+ for her technique, but her and her husband get a dismal F for neatness in terms of nest construction. Three Green Wood-Hoopoe also graced me with their presence, but were experts at avoiding my photographic efforts.
I ended my time at the dam by exploring the area around the managers house - he pointed out his Owl box where Spotted Eagle Owl have raised their offspring and even though he pointed out the likely spots where the Owl could be, my search was a pain in the neck with no reward apart from spotting Southern Masked Weaver and White-browed Sparrow-Weaver, which get an E for nest design. The other birds in this area included Crested Barbet, Cape Sparrow, Dark-capped Bulbul, Tawny-flanked Prinia and Speckled Mousebird. The chicken chicks don't count on my list but they are cute.
38 Birds and 1 Lifer is not a bad score for a few hours at a little dam that is certainly worth a visit. Lawrence has taken my card and promised to SMS me when the White Eagles arrive in December (not sure what they are). Watch this space.