Birding Gauteng describes three spots in the Rust de Winter area (about 70 kilometers north of Pretoria). We first explored the Dinokeng Roadside Route and then the Rust de Winter Dam before moving on to the Rust de Winter Route (covered in chapter 59 of Birding Gauteng).
After visiting the dam we moved on to the Rust de Winter town and surrounding area. It was approaching 11 o’clock by now and long past the ideal birding time of the day. We saw nothing at the bridge where we crossed the Elands River after Jan se Draai but saw a sign at a resort/caravan park just after the bridge on the right hand side of the road saying: Rust de Winter Bird Sanctuary. We buzzed the intercom and were allowed to drive up to the guard house – where we were given a number to call to arrange access to do some birding. Peter, the owner, graciously allowed us to enter at no cost (to what he said was basically a caravan park without pets so the bird life is abundant). We drove and walked around the whole place and saw Cattle Egret, Burchell’s Starling, Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Neddicky and Groundscraper Thrush. We searched the spots along the two spots in the side with views of the Elands River hoping to spot an African Finfoot – but without luck. One day!!!
We continued on the road to the town (um, village, hamlet, settlement ???) and explored the southern leg of the route. Our highlight here was close up sightings of Southern White-crowned Shrike that were numerous in the area. Another Life got away from us – a raptor that took off from a tree and flew into another huge tree and must have fooled us by flying straight through or using an invisibility cloak because we stood around for 15 minutes trying to find it in the branches and left frustrated about losing out again!
On Monday the 28th November 2011 I left home before dawn for the town of Rust de Winter - about 40 minutes north-east of Pretoria. There was a report on the weekend that Abdim's Stork was seen in some open fields in the area and because I had been searching for this species for about 18 months I could not resist visiting the spot. I arrived at some farm lands in the area around 6:15 and (before I could even think about how long it would take me to spot one of these birds) there they were - initially I counted a dozen but soon realised there was around 50. This has to be the easiest Twitch I have ever been on. I managed to get permission to drive on the private farm land from a farmer who was heading into town with his family and this helped me to get up close to the birds:
I tore my self away from the birds as they continued to feed on the outbreak of insects on the property and made my way to the bridge over the Elands River. I have driven past this spot a few times and even staked it out before hoping to see African Finfoot but was unsuccessful each time. I had also read in Birding Gauteng that this is a good spot for Verreaux's Eagle-Owl and spent some time scanning the tall trees along the river - and there it was - up really high but in clear view. I managed to sneak up fairly close to the tree but it was still a long way up - here are some pics that I managed to get:
As I was taking pics and fiddling with camera settings to compensate for the low light under the trees - I looked up and swimming towards me was a Finfoot - followed by a second bird that seemed to be chasing the first - probably a female followed by a male. The one was calling and they left the water and disappeared into the long grass on an island. A while later one of the pair emerged, swam off and then took off to land on the far bank of the river. No matter how much I searched for about an hour after first seeing the pair there was no sight of these ghosts of the river!
I spent some time birding the off road racing area below the river and then explored some of the dirt roads along the canal routes. Close to where I had seen the Storks I spent some time trying to get decent pics of one of two Lesser Kestrels' in the area:
One of the most common birds on the day was Woodland Kingfisher - displaying everywhere:
On my way back towards Pienaarsrivier I spotted what looked like an Oriole heading up a hill and I was desperate to see if it was Eurasian Golden Oriole - after a good hike of about 20 minutes I found the bird and sadly saw it's black head. Oh well, one day I will see an Eurasian Golden!
Here are a few other pics from the day: