My motivation for birding the Krugersdorp Game Reserve had little to do with high expectations for Lifers. As I read through Birding Gauteng I did not see anything that I would be adding to my lists – but I was looking for a day out that my 5 year old son and I could enjoy together. We visited the reserve about 3 years back (when our focus was on animals and felt it was a tad overpriced and not as good as the nearby Lion and Rhino Park or Lion Park in Lanseria. But it sounded like the ideal day outing and the addition of an aviary sounded like something a 5 year-old would enjoy and help his birding education go to the next level.
The Reserve only opens at 8am (I am not even going to start ranting about that, otherwise it will affect the whole tone of my report – but an 8am start for birding??? That is like midday!!!). Anyway we paid the R70 and R30 entrance fees (ouch!) and as we pulled through main entrance, on the way to the dam, with no intention of coming away with anything to add to my lifelist, we saw a little bird perched on a rock some 100 metres away from the tar road – and as it turned towards me I knew immediately that it was a new sighting – a Marsh Owl. I promise you, I came really close to breaking the rule of not getting out of the car and stalking it on foot to get a better shot.
We drove to the dam, following a dirt road that we hoped might get us closer to the Owl, but it was no closer – man, obeying rules can be tough at times. So, we continued to check out the little dam where we saw Yellow-billed Duck, Red-knobbed Coot, Egyptian Geese, African Black Duck, Helmeted Guineafowl and African Stonechat both male and female.
We doubled back to the open field near the entrance to see if we could get a better sighting of the Owl, but it was nowhere to be found, nor was it found at the picnic area to the left of the entrance as you enter the Reserve. We did see two Black-shouldered Kite on the telephone lines on the way to the picnic spot, and at the spot we saw Blacksmith Lapwing and Common Mynah.
A bit disappointed at letting the Owl get away (I considered taking it home with us ;) ) we made our way to the Ngonyama Lion Lodge that is situated inside the reserve. We spent about half an hour birding the grounds around the chalets and saw Crested Barbet, Common Fiscal, Southern Red Bishop and Southern Masked Weaver. Not much to get us too excited but it was good to be out and about on a beautiful early winter’s morning.
Our next stop was the lion camp where we were a bit delayed in our feathered quest by a group of lion cubs that emerged from the bush and played around with the male and the females in the clearing. Here are some pics – they are of the “Lionbird” species and are endemic.
We found a great little spot in the lion camp where birds were literally all over the place – including Cape Robin-Chat, Yellow-fronted Canary, and birds that we failed to identify before they took off – they are probably used to hiding from the lions! It was a different experience knowing that if you hang out the window with your zoom lens you could lose your arms – and to be honest not much that we saw was in that category! Now, if we spotted Narina Trogon or African Finfoot – I would seriously consider giving an arm (preferably my left as I am right-handed) – but for Canaries and Doves? Not even a toe-nail!
We found the clearing in the middle of the lion camp where the lions are fed and found not a meat carcass chained to the centre post, but a Brown-hooded Kingfisher perched on the spot. Lately I am discovering that Kingfishers don’t just fish or hang out at dams and rivers! Dozens of Helmeted Guineafowl and some Crowned Lapwing were the only other birds in the vicinity.
We continued through the rest of the lion camp with no other sightings and arrived at the walk-in aviary. This was a real treat for Little Birdman – as we got to walk around the place, spotting birds and seeing them up close and then the worker decided to feed the birds – which made EVERY bird come out of hiding for breakfast. That was a lot of fun. None of the birds were lifers for me and obviously you would not tick them off anyway, but it was a great experience, especially watching the Grey Crowned Crane doing his mating dance for an unimpressed partner. Then again, I am not sure if he was doing it to me or to the other Crane. Here is a list of birds in the aviary that we saw: White-faced Duck, Fulvous Duck, South African Shelduck, Grey-crowned Crane, Yellow-billed Hornbill, Red-winged Starling (male and female), Karoo Thrush, Red-winged Starling, Wattled Starling, Lourie, Red-billed Quelea, Southern Masked Weaver and Dark-capped Bulbul.
Before we left a male Common Ostrich confronted me and did this weird dance, that I certainly hope was not a mating dance. He knelt down and did the whole feather display and moved his head from side to side. Either way, that was one really confused puppy!!! Hey, if you look closely at the eye of the second Ostrich pic you can see what car we were driving in! Of course, I did that on purpose!!!! Framed the shot perfectly to get the reflection just right!
Our next stop was the picnic site that seemed deserted of birds so we tackled the Kikuyu plains where the Zebra, Buck and Wildebeest hang out. This is when the second Ostrich decided to do a “mating” dance for me and ran after our car for a while until I showed him my wedding ring and he gave up the chase.
On the way down the hill we had some good sighting of Cape Longclaw, Cloud Cisticola (if my id is correct) and a few other LBJs that kept flying off as we approached them.
At this point Little Birdman said something that cracked me up: "Let me take off my sleeping eyes, and my eating eyes and put on my birding eyes." He made hand motions, pretending to remove and put on the eyes. We had already done a lot of looking for birds by now, and still he was keen for more!!!
Next up we saw a new species of bird, the rufous-backed-and-stomached-squirrel-bird that seems prolific in the place.
We rounded the bottom end of the reserve and on the way back up the hill had two Pipit sightings that I am identifying as Buffy Pipit and African Pipit respectively. We spent a long time in the presence of the African Pipit and it ended up coming rather close to our car – so the pic is not half bad! We also had Cape Longclaw come up close at this point too.
We got momentarily distracted by the great herds of Zebra, Wildebeeste and buck before continuing on up the hill where we saw Wattled Starling and at the little dam saw an aggressive Egyptian Goose chasing off two little Yellow-billed Duck that seemed desperate to swim on the dam (Little Birdman – my 5-year old - captured the pic of the bully flying – not half bad!!!). Only once were they able to sneak into the dam, drink a few “beak”fuls of water before they were unceremoniously driven off. They then circled the dam a few times before trying their luck again. Meanwhile, a Little Grebe seemingly went totally unnoticed by the big bully as he drifted around the edge of the dam. Maybe I could make a TV show about this interaction and call it “The Life of Ducks”.
By now it was 12:30 and our next hour spent birding in the caravan section of the main picnic area did not yield much – some bird sounds that we had not heard before kept us interested but nothing showed up.
A day of amazing memories, 1 Lifer (a special one at that in the Marsh Owl), 40 bird species seen (excluding the aviary birds) and a few pics to update my albums and also some quality time spent in the presence of birds, like in the Aviary or on the road with the Pipits and the Cape Longclaws.
Birds seen but not mentioned in this report: Pearl-breasted Swallow, Swainson's Spurfowl, Fiscal Flycatcher, Cape White-eye, Cape Sparrow, Laughing Dove and Neddicky.