On the 24th May 2010 at 4:30 Little Birdman (my 5 year old) and I left Joburg for Roodekopjes Dam (covered in Chapter 46 of Birding Gauteng) - it is 30 kilometers north of Brits. We arrived at 6:30am as the sun started rising and found a lot of mist around the dam and along the rivers that flow into the dam. Beautiful for scenery shot, not that great for bird photography!!! We were following the Birding Gauteng route and started at the Roodekopjes Hengeloord, paid the meagre entrance fee (my son got in for free - first surprise of the day) and headed down the dirt road to the edge of the dam - briefly distracted by a sighting of a Brown-hooded Kingfisher.
We spent the next hour exploring the road to the right (towards the picnic area) and saw lots of waterbirds, including Grey Heron, African Darter, Common Moorhen, African Jacana (lots of juveniles), Great Egret, Pied Kingfisher, Great Kingfisher, Malachite Kingfisher (I remember when I started birding in January I had never seen one and within an hour on this trip saw 4!), Red-knobbed Coot, Egyptian Geese, Hadeda and African Sacred Ibis and of course Blacksmith Lapwing (lots of them and extra vocal). A special sighting was Spotted Thick-Knee.
Even though it was really misty at the picnic site, we got up close to two Burchell's Coucal that came flying to a tree close to us and then "hovered" around for a while.
The only waders we saw all day were Three-banded Plover and Cape Wagtail (since when did they become waders?). Winter is not productive in that department!!!
In the bush along the way to the Picnic area we saw Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler, Crested Barbet, Common Myna, Helmeted Guineafowl, a little plain grey Francolin-type bird that moved too quickly for me to positively identify (I did not see any red on the face so I would guess that it was Natal Spurfowl), Groundscraper Thrush, Cape Glossy Starling (Duh!), African Hoopoe and Fork-tailed Drongo (of course).
A whole tree full of "little" Swallows was an amazing sighting - I parked close enough to reach out and touch them and they just sat there. It was special. I am a real novice with Swallows as I have to be close enough to get decent pics of them (and they never seem to get tired of flying), but they have been identified as Pearl-breasted Swallow.
We also saw two different Lark/Pippit birds feeding on the ground (I have not confirmed their id yet):
We then explored the area to the south of the dirt road that leads to the dam from the ticket office entrance. Here we saw some good duck sighting - including Yellow-billed Duck and lots of White-faced Duck and more Grey Heron, Darters and Cormorant - both White-breasted and Reed.
We also saw a Marico Flycatcher and immature Pearl-breasted Swallow:
We then left the resort and headed to the Dennekruin Angling Resort - stopping along the way to take pics of a group of seed-eaters that included Common and Blue Waxbill, Red-billed Firefinch, Red-billed Quelea and non-breeding Southern Red Bishop. A 100 metres further down the road we saw a Black-shouldered Kite waiting at a fly-through for his meal to be ready.
We arrived at Dennekruin and the owner of the resort drove up to us in his white 4x4 bakkie and when we told him what we wanted to do in the resort he let us in without paying. Cool!
The first bird we saw was an African Pipit:
We drove down to the dam and first explored the water's area to the right - where we saw Water Thick-Knee, White-fronted Bee-eater, Squacco Heron, White-faced Duck (the bird of the day apparently).
On the drive to the left side of the water's edge we saw Crowned Plover, Egyptian Geese, a juvenile Grey Heron, Scaly-feathered Finch (moustache and all), Red-billed Teal, Three-banded Plover and a large group of seed-eaters including Scaly-feathered Finch and Southern Masked Weaver.
The next bird we saw was a Black-chested Prinia:
We then saw South African Cliff-Swallow:
The last bird we saw before leaving the resort was a Cape Glossy Starling, not a special, but it was up close and made for a good shot:
We then headed north on the road toward Thabazimbi for a kilometer or two to the Kokoriba Game Reserve that has a dam and a high bird hide which the book says is not for the feint hearted. The sign at the entrance said, "No day visitors" but we signed ourselves in anyway and reported to reception when with our most smiley faces enquired about the dam. We were told that we could not drive there but could either (a) go on a game drive in one of their vehicles (we did not bother to enquire about the price), (b) hire bicycles (not a great option with a 5-year old, although maybe they have tandems???) or (c) walk the 2 kilometers to the water hole. It was already 10:30 but we were desperate so we chose....option C. When I enquired about the costs, my jaw nearly dropped off when the lady behind the counter smiled one more time at Little Birdman and said, "Oh, you don't need to pay! Enjoy the walk". My little guy is a real charmer!
On the walk we had buck charging across the road right in front of us on 2 occasions and we also saw Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill, Crested Francolin, Golden-breasted Bunting, White-browed Scrub-Robin (seen at the little water hole before the large water hole).
We arrived at the hide after a pleasant walk that took about 40 minutes with some stopping we did along the way to try and get some pics (slim picking to be honest and not a sighting of the Violet-backed Starling that I am desperate to see - oh, I just learnt that red in the books mean Summer Visitors! Doh!!!). My photo of Drew standing in front of the tallest hide I have even seen shows just how high it is. We did not see much at the dam, apart from a lone warthog (which Drew really enjoyed seeing) and some Red-knobbed Coot (actually it was a bit of a disappointment, but it was 11 o'clock by then) and a Little Grebe or two. We were hoping to see Crocodile as both dams had No Swimming signs with a pic of a crocodile on it - but we did not get lucky!
On the walk back to the reception area, we saw more Hornbill (Red-billed, Yellow-billed and African Grey), Red-faced Mousebird, Cardinal Woodpecker, Red-headed Weaver, Cape White-eye, Green Wood-Hoopoe, Crimson-breasted Shrike and Fork-tailed Drongo (of course).
We profusely thanked the lady that gave us the experience for free and on our way back to the main entrance saw a Pale Flycatcher.
It was already 1pm and we thought about heading home, but you know that feeling when despite the overhead sun just are just not yet finished!!! So we turned right and took the road across the river to Beestekraal (it is also the road towards Vaalkop Dam that I birded a month or two back). We headed towards the dam wall and again were somewhat surprised when the gate keeper let us in with no questions asked. Again, I put it down to my smiling Little Birdman! We saw some Magpie Shrike up close and then stopped in a field to get up close to some Sable antelope. Magnificent creatures!
We then headed to the dam wall and were really surprised how you can drive right down to the bottom of the wall and along the river for a while. We saw a Great Egret and a Grey Heron - an African Finfoot would have been nice, but it was not Christmas (although a belated birthday present from Saturday would have been really special!!!) One day!!!!!!
From there we took some dirt tracks that led us back to the somewhat private camping site next to the dam wall (surprisingly no one asked us what we were doing there) where we saw Crimson-breasted Shrike, Mallard and Southern Grey-headed Sparrow.
In the picnic area we also saw another Marico Flycatcher.
At the picnic area we also saw a male White-bellied Sunbird and Cisticola (whose ID I am yet to confirm), while a Hamerkop flew over the dam in front of us:
We then witnessed two interactions between birds and mammals. The first was a squirrel in a tree near a nest that two Crimson-breasted Shrike were rather upset about. The second was a massive Water Monitor (Little Birdman is convinced it is a crocodile) that a Blacksmith Lapwing was dive bombing to get it out of his territory).
Before we finally left that part of the reserve we got a close up sighting of another Southern Red-billed Hornbill, Spotted Thick-knee (that crouched down under a tree thinking that I had not spotted it until I got within a couple of metres of it to get a decent pic) and a flock of White-faced Duck (remember, it was the bird of the day) that gave us a flying demonstration that made me think I was at Waterkloof airport on a airplane show day.
On the road home, I snapped a pic of a massive "swarm" of Quelea and Wattled Plover. I then had an embarrassing moment photographing what I thought was my second ever sighting of Scmitarbill near the hartebeespoort dam that turned out (once I had moved around to get the later afternoon sun into a better position) to be Green Wood-Hoopoe. The red-bill and white on the feathers was a bit of a give away. It cost me the price of two South African flags for my wife's rear view mirrors as the guy had already tried them on by the time I got back to my car. The R100 I paid for the pair of them were definitely an investment in his small business and not an indication of their value! Hey, it is 2010 after all, so I am not complaining!!!
All in all, we saw 75 bird species on the day (the same that we saw at Barberspan Dam on Saturday) and at least two Lifers - the Pale Flycatcher and the Pearl-breasted Swallow (and who knows what the Larks are that I snapped), not a lifer in the list. But, hey I will say it again, I am photographing birds and in that department it was one amazing day!!! A free walking safari was an added bonus for Little Birdman and I!