Saturday 30 December 2017

South Africa: Trip List

South Africa 2nd - 6th December 2017

We used the 2011 4th edition SASOL Bird of Southern Africa by Sinclair, Hockey, Tarboton and Ryan, and the list below follows that nomenclature and taxonomy.

1. African Penguin
2. Northern Giant Petrel - off the seal colony at the WCNP
3. Cape Gannet
4. Great White Pelican
5. Greater Flamingo
6. Lesser Flamingo - a few in with roseus at Strandfontein
7. White-breasted Cormorant
8. Bank Cormorant
9. Cape Cormorant
10. Crowned Cormorant
11. Reed Cormorant
12. African Darter - a fortunate find in the De Hoop Vlei
13. African Spoonbill - WCNP
14. African Sacred Ibis
15. Hadada Ibis
16. Glossy Ibis
17. Purple Heron
18. Grey Heron
19. Black-headed Heron
20. Great Egret
21. Little Egret
22. Western Cattle Egret
23.Black-crowned Night Heron
24. White Stork - a single bird in the arable hills north of De Hoop
25. Great-crested Grebe
26. Black-necked Grebe
27. Little Grebe
28. Spur-winged Goose
29. Egyptian Goose - everywhere!
30. South-African Shelduck - De Hoop Vlei
31. Yellow-billed Duck
32. Cape Shoveler
33. Southern Pochard
34. Red-billed Teal
35. Cape Teal
36. Hottentot Teal - two pairs on our second visit to Strandfontein
37. Maccoa Duck - birds on the De Hoop Vlei as well as Strandfontein
38. Cape Vulture - De Hoop (Potberg)
39. African Fish Eagle - singles at Strandfontein and De Hoop
40. Booted Eagle
41. Yellow-billed Kite
42. Jackal Buzzard
43. Steppe Buzzard
44. African Marsh Harrier - Strandfontein
45. Black Harrier - WCNP
46. Black-shouldered Kite - possibly the commonest raptor
47. Rock Kestrel
48. Common Ostrich
49. Helmeted Guineafowl
50. Grey-winged Francolin - heard only in strandveld habitat
51. Cape Spurfowl
52. Red-knobbed Coot
53. Common Moorhen
54. African Swamphen - Strandfontein
55. Black Crake - great views at WCNP
56. African Rail - WCNP
57. Blue Crane - Darling Hills and Overberg arable habitat
58. Southern Black Korhaan - WCNP and De Hoop
59. Black-winged Stilt
60. Pied Avocet
61. African Oystercatcher
62. Spotted Thick-knee - Strandfontein
63. Water Thick-knee - Strandfontein and De Hoop
64. Blacksmith Lapwing
65. Crowned Lapwing - De Hoop
66. Grey Plover
67. Kittlitz's Plover - WCNP
68. White-fronted Plover - WCNP at Tsaarsbank
69. Common Ringed Plover
70. Three-banded Plover
71. Common Whimbrel
72. Bar-tailed Godwit
73. Common Greenshank
74. Marsh Sandpiper
75. Wood Sandpiper
76. Ruff
77. Ruddy Turnstone
78. Sanderling
79. Curlew Sandpiper
80. Little Stint
81. Kelp Gull
82. Grey-headed Gull - a few at Strandfontein
83. Hartlaub's Gull
84. Caspian Tern
85. Swift Tern
86. Sandwich Tern
87. Common Tern
88. Whiskered Tern
89. Speckled Pigeon
90. Rock Dove
91. Red-eyed Dove
92. Cape Turtle Dove
93. Laughing Dove
94. Namaqua Dove - WCNP
95. Dideric Cuckoo - Harold Porter BG
96. Spotted Eagle Owl
97. Alpine Swift
98. African Black Swift
99. Little Swift
100. White-rumped Swift
101. Speckled Mousebird
102. White-backed Mousebird
103. Half-collared Kingfisher - Malgas pont
104. European Bee-eater
105. African Hoopoe
106. Acacia Pied Barbet - on the road south of Buffeljagsrivier
107. Lesser Honeyguide - as above
108. Knysna Woodpecker - De Hoop in milkwood
109. Ground Woodpecker - Harold Porter BG
110. Red-capped Lark
111. Large-billed Lark
112. Karoo Lark
113. Agulhas Long-billed Lark - De Hoop
114. Barn Swallow
115. White-breasted Swallow
116. Pearl-breasted Swallow
117. Greater Striped Swallow
118. Black Saw-wing
119. Brown-throated Martin
120. Rock Martin
121. Fork-tailed Drongo - De Hoop at Potberg
122. White-necked Raven
123. Pied Crow
124. Cape Crow
125. House Crow - Cape Town
126. Grey Tit
127. Sombre Greenbul - Kirstenbosch
128. Olive Thrush
129. Cape Rock-thrush - Rooi-Els
130. Sentinel Rock-thrush - Rooi-Els
131. Cape Rockjumper - Rooi-Els
132. Familiar Chat - Rooi-Els
133. Capped Wheatear
134. African Stonechat
135. Karoo Scrub Robin - strandveld habitat
136. Cape Robin-chat
137. Cape Grassbird
138. Victorin's Warbler - Harold Porter BG
139. Long-billed Crombec - WCNP
140. Cape Penduline Tit - WCNP
141. Chestnut-vented Tit-babbler - WCNP
142. Little Rush Warbler
143. Lesser Swamp Warbler
144. Zitting Cisticola
145. Neddicky - Harold Porter BG
146. Levaillant's Cisticola
147. Grey-backed Cisticola
148. Karoo Prinia
149. Bar-throated Apalis - WCNP and De Hoop
150. Fiscal Flycatcher
151. African Dusky Flycatcher
152. Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher - forested part of Harold Porter BG
153. African Paradise Flycatcher - forested part of Harold Porter BG
154. Cape Batis
155. Cape White-eye
156. Cape Wagtail
157. Cape Longclaw - Geelsbek, WCNP
158. African Pipit
159. Long-billed Pipit
160. Common Fiscal
161. Southern Boubou - Kirstenbosch
162. Southern Tchagra - De Hoop
163. Bokmakierie
164. Pied Starling
165. Red-winged Starling
166. Common Starling
167. Cape Sugarbird - Fynbos habitat 
168. Malachite Sunbird
169. Orange-breasted Sunbird - Harold Porter BG
170. Southern Double-collared Sunbird
171. Cape Sparrow
172. House Sparrow
173. Cape Weaver
174. Southern Masked Weaver - WCNP
175. Southern Red Bishop

176. Pin-tailed Whydah - Kirstenbosch
177. Bronze Mannikin - Newlands
178. Common Waxbill
179. Swee Waxbill - Kirstenbosch
180. White-throated Canary
181. Brimstone Canary
182. Yellow Canary
183. Cape Canary
184. Cape Siskin - Harold Porter BGand Rooi-Els
185. Cape Bunting

(186). Indian Peafowl (introduced)
(187). Common Chaffinch - Kirstenbosch (introduced)

Cape Canary

Wednesday 27 December 2017

South Africa: Day 5

Day 5:
Make or break this morning, probably our last chance for photography given that we would likely be driving back to Cape Town during the afternoon period. As such we got up early to get the sunrise, and so peering through the curtains in the half light to judge the clarity of the day I was astounded to see several Zebra wandering around the cottages. Superb! 

Mick headed off on Mission Wheatear (I have turned him!) and this time I went into the Milkwood thickets to try and find Knysna Woodpecker - a specialty tick from round these parts. This was almost an immediate success when a bird flew between trees, and I also found loads of Southern Tchagra. With the light now acceptable for using the camera I then went back to the boat house to see if there were any Giant Kingfishers around. There were not! I contented myself with trying to get quality images of anything I could find, and discovered a good situation just above the Vlei where I could use the water as a background by raising my position slightly. The soft morning light was really nice and I managed to get photos of Malachite Sunbird, Speckled Mousebird, Karoo Prinia, Bar-throated Apalis, Cape Wagtail, Southern Fiscal and Cape Bulbul.

Cape Wagtail

Malachite Sunbird. I'd like to visit earlier and get these in breeding plumage!

Karoo Prinia

Southern Fiscal

Cape Bulbul

Meeting up with Mick at breakfast I could see he was pleased too - not surprising really as he had spent the entire morning with the Capped Wheatears and they do have that effect on people! Not needing to back in Cape Town until 6pm, we headed back to Potberg to see if we were early enough to catch the Cape Vultures heading out, and happily we got good views of half a dozen birds cruising above the reserve and gradually getting higher and higher as the air warmed up. Still no Secretary Birds though, so we decided to devote the rest of the morning to seeing if we could find any Bustards in the arable landscape. To cut a long story short we spent over two hours slowly crawling up and down country roads scanning the fields and drew a complete blank! 

African Pipit

Heading west out of De Hoop we had a quick lunch in Bredasdorp and then pointed the car directly at Strandfontein in order to spend a bit more time birding this fantastic area. It was as good as before, and we managed to add a couple more species to the trip list - African Swamphen and Hottentot Teal. There were also some Maccoa Ducks which we had missed the first time around, so in the end we probably saw almost all the available ducks here. I think we were both photographed out by this point however, and so neither of us really took any images here, instead just enjoying the place for what it was. With our time up we changed and packed up before driving the short distance to the airport and returning our very dusty car. In the airport we managed to get showers in the lounge before settling down aboard a full 747 for a good sleep on the way to London, and like many of my trips I was at my desk in Canary Wharf by half nine the next morning! 

Cape Teal

Hottentot Teal

Kelp Gull

African Sacred Ibis

Tuesday 26 December 2017

South Africa: Day 4

Typical Overberg landscape

Day 4:
Today we were headed east to De Hoop Nature Reserve, a location suggested and booked by Birding Africa that was about three and a half hours drive from Cape Town. In order to try and get there at a decent time we got up really early, but I think that unless you leave in the middle of the night you are basically not going to arrive for early morning birding. That said the landscape was fantastic - you head over the Sir Lowrie Pass once you are through West Somerset, and once over this small range you are in what is known as the Overberg, miles and miles of rolling countryside. Bustard country, if you are lucky. We had a number of stops along the main road to appreciate the fine views, and eventually turned off towards the coast at a small settlement called Buffeljagsrivier, signposted for Malgas.

The road became unpaved here, so we took it slowly looking for birds out of the open windows, winding them up whenever another car came along. Typically the locals absolutely steamed along kicking up a massive cloud of dust, so you had to be quick or get a covering! We were aided in birding by a guide prepared by Campbell, and his first sugggested stop was very good indeed. This was a small river bordered by thorny Acacias. Lesser Honeyguide breeds here and I managed decent views eventually. There were loads of Southern Red Bishops breeding in the reeds, and I also jammed an Acacia Pied Barbet distantly. Neither of us had a scope, so in some situations we simply took long range shots and identified the birds afterwards - lazy birding really but you do what you can. We also added various Pipits and Larks in the stubble fields along the way, and a pair of Crowned Lapwing.

Jackal Buzzard

We carried on towards Malgas, wasting a lot of time trying to photograph Capped Wheatears using the rock-on-post method. Despite loading up every post for 300 yards with a rock the birds steadfastly refused to perch on any of them. So I have a load of very close range photos of Capped Wheatear on crappy posts. As you know I am not that precious about perches but Mick is not a fan at all. As we approached Malgas we came across a Southern Black Korhaan that yet again refused to pose for us, and in the heat of the day the distance proved mostly unworkable. At Malgas we took a human-powered chain ferry across the Breerivier - the guys operating it literally clip themselves to the chain and plod the length of the ferry before unclipping themselves and walking to the other end and starting again. This was slow but very pleasant and we saw a Half-collared Kingfisher distantly, unfortunately our only Kingfisher of the trip. 

Southern Black Korhaan

Malgas Pont ferry

From here we were nearly at De Hoop, and despite the fact it was the wrong time of day to see the Cape Vultures at Potberg. We failed miserably, the birds were probably all miles away, but we did manage to see a several Fiscal Flycatchers and a Fork-tailed Drongo. Along the track that leads to Potberg is a fenced-in game area with various different antelopes, mostly Bontebok. We returned the way we had came, hoping for Secretary Bird which this a good area for but not seeing any, and then turned into the track to De Hoop itself. 

Fiscal Flycatcher

Zebra! I cannot begin to tell you how excited I was to see Zebra (Cape Mountain Zebra, as opposed the Plains Zebra), this to me is something out of a nature documentary on television, not something that I could personally experience. Astonishing to have them just walking about, and I was very pleased. Lots of wildlife here - a Leopard Tortoise, Chacma Baboons, Eland, Grey Rhebok and Bontebok, and a Boomslang (a very poisonous snake) crossed the road in front of our car. We dumped our stuff started birding alongside the Vlei, first near the boathouse and later on down near the beach. We added Great Crested Grebe here as well as Little Egret - really great being in Africa! Better was an African Darter which we picked up very distantly in a huge raft of Red-knobbed Coot, and decent views of Southern Tchagra in the scrub. Closer to the dunes we added South African Shelduck and Macoa Duck amongst many of the commoner species. We then wasted a lot of time going down to Koppie Alleen where we could access the ocean, but there was barely a single bird here and I whilst the view was nice we shouldn't have bothered. 

Kopppie Alleen


Back at De Hoop for the evening light I enjoyed myself with a relatively showy Capped Wheatear and finally took the Ostrich photo I wanted, whilst Mick stalked the Milkwoods for Bokmakierie and Southern Fiscal. We rounded off the day with a great meal at the Fig Tree restaurant that was part of the accommodation here before heading off to our cottage. In all honesty barring the final hour of the day it had not been that productive for images, but it is often the case that a short stint like that can rescue an entire day, and we retired very pleased.

Capped Wheatear will be the subject of a separate post!



Helmeted Guineafowl

Saturday 23 December 2017

South Africa: Day 3

Day 3:
A lovely lie in this morning meant I was mentally ready for what lay ahead – i.e. Penguins! Campbell met us right on time and we drove east across the Cape Flats, through Someset West and Gordon’s Bay and around the coast to Rooi-Els and Betty’s Bay – a spectacular drive. Our first stop was the Harold Porter Botanic Garden to try for Cape Sugarbird images in the morning light – usually the trip would start with Cape Rockjumper but we decided to reverse things.

Cape Grassbird

The garden is wonderful, a real showcase of native plants, and much more relaxing and less-crowded than Kirstenbosch. It lacks the spectacular backdrop and wow factor, but as a location for birding I thought it was a lot better. We took photos both on the slopes above and in the garden itself, and came away with decent ones of both the Sugarbird (which were plentiful) and also Cape Grassbird. We also saw our first Orange-breasted Sunbird, plenty of Southern Double-collared Sunbirds, Malachite Sunbird, Fiscal Flycatcher and various Canaries. Plenty of Cape Siskin here, as well as another species of Cisticola, the Neddicky. There was also a troop of Baboons! As the day became hotter we sought the shade of the forest, taking the path up one of the two ravines to a waterfall. Here we encountered a whole new suite of birds, including African Paradise Flycatcher, Ground Woodpecker, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, a sadly invisible singing Victorin’s Warbler, and best of all Cape Batis feeding a recently fledged Dideric Cuckoo. We had totally ignored the youngster for a while as we were concentrating on the wonderful Batis, until I suddenly realised that the chick was quite a lot larger than the parent. A closer look through the foliage revealed banding and some green plumage coming through!

Southern Double-collared Sunbird

Cape White-eye

Orange-breasted Sunbird

Malachite Sunbird in moult

African Paradise Flycatcher

Cape Batis

After a relaxing lunch at the visitor centre – Birding Africa really do have their locations all worked out – we drove the short distance to what would be, for me, one of the highlights of the trip – the African Penguin colony at Stony Point! I still cannot believe I have seen a real non-Zoo Penguin, but there you have it. In short I loved it. Photographic opportunities were surprisingly difficult – it is hard to be inventive or get a clean shot when there are so many birds, plus you are on a raised boardwalk. At the end of the boardwalk was a huge Cormorant island, and we cleaned up on the rest of the SA species here – Crowned, Bank, Cape and White-breasted were all present, in addition to the Reed Cormorant previously seen.

Final stop of the day were the cliffs at Rooi-Els, a well known site for Cape Rockjumper – a major trip target for all visiting birders. We left the car at the gate and walked up the stony track – Campbell knew where the nest sites had been and soon had us onto both a juvenile and a male bird, but these were high up on the rocky slope and it is not recommended that you try and chase after them at this sensitive location so sadly I have no photos. Great birds though, very characterful, and a reason to go back. Instead we contented ourselves with getting photos of Cape Rockthrush and Sentinel Rockthrush in very windy conditions, as well as a plain-looking bird that to me looked quite Wheatearish! Guess what – Familiar Chat was relatively recently moved to the Oenanthe family but this was news to me until I read up on it later. Happily I had managed a couple of shots so this is another bird that I can add to my favourite galleries!

Familiar Chat

Sentinel Rock Thrush. Should be a Wheatear really - look at that pose!

Sentinel Rock Thrush

Cape Rock Thrush

Cape Bunting

Speckled Pigeon

And that was that for the day. We stopped to take a few landscape shots of the beautiful rocky coastline of the east side of False Bay, and then made our way back to Cape Town relatively early. The trip list was now 165, this had been a great day out with a much better hit-rate of quality images than the prior day, in addition to all the major targets seen. Penguins! OML! Gah!

Tuesday 19 December 2017

South Africa: Day 2

Day 2:
Four in the morning came around far too quickly, but Mick and I were equal to the task of getting up, and so too was our new guide for the next two days Campbell, who turned up right on time half an hour later – always a good sign. The weather was poor, and now we understood why our days had been swapped around and why it was that we were headed north along the west coast of the Cape instead of east to the Hottentots as originally planned.
We made most of the journey in the dark in order to maximise birding time, and so our first stop was just after dawn on a minor road just north of Koeberg. Campbell had asked us what our priorities were and was perhaps somewhat surprised that unlike most people we were not interested in a rabid tick-fest but instead wanted to spend time with the birds with the aim of getting some decent images. That said, it was dull and grey and so for this stop we reverted to birding – the two hobbies really do gel very well.

Karoo Scrub Robin. ISO 2 million.

As the light gradually came up above the uniform Strandveld habitat, we could hear birds everywhere, seeing them was a different matter entirely however  - this was not a morning when things were inclined to perch up and sing in full view! We eventually managed views of almost everything other than Grey Francolin and Long-billed Crombec. The former is a fully ground-dwelling species that we were always going to struggle to get a view of in the dense habitat, and the latter a real skulker that showed briefly after intense pishing. Species seen here included Cape Weaver, Bokmakeirie, Karoo Scrub Robin, Grey-backed Cisticola, Rufous-vented Tit Babbler and Pearl-breasted Swallow. Raptor interest was provided with Jackal Buzzard, Black-winged Kite and our first views of Rock Kestrel, all of which we would see multiples of throughout the trip. I have no photos worth speaking of from this stop-off as the light was so dire throughout. 

Our second stop was the Darling Hills road opposite Grotto Bay – this had been recommended to us by Otto the previous day and Campbell also knew it well. As we approach the turnoff what we initially took to be an Egyptian Goose in the gloom became a Southern Black Korhaan in flight. A bit of result as this is a major target of this particular day-trip, but disappointing not to see it better.

The Darling hills road is unpaved and gently winds its way up through agricultural habitat. There were more Bokmakerie here, as well as our first views of White-backed Mousebird, European Bee-eaterPied Starling and a Three-banded Plover on some mud. More obvious however were a field full of Blue Crane, South Africa’s national bird, numerous African Pipits, and specially for me, two pairs of Capped Wheatear – Oenanthe pileata.  We nabbed a few photos of the Cranes, but the Wheatear were not playing ball and in addition were soaking wet in the light drizzle and not looking their best.

Capped Wheatear, damp morph

The weather looked better further north so we carried on to the West Coast National Park, our actual destination for the day. A small fee was payable to enter the park, and we then drove for a few kilometres through the strandveld before stopping the car at a seemingly random point by the side of the road when we saw a Namaqua Dove on the tarmac. This was all part of Campbell’s master plan however as the scrub here was teeming with birds. We got excellent views of Karoo Lark,  Karoo Prinia, Bar-throated Apalis, Cape Penduline Tit, Southern Masked Bishop, and Southern Grey Tit (unexpected here).  And then a trip highlight – Ostriches in the middle distance! This felt like proper Africa and to celebrate the sun came out!

Southern Grey Tit

Karoo Prinia

A short while further on we parked the car up at the edge of the lagoon that is the centrepiece of the park and walked a short boardwalk out to a hide. The tide was already quite far out, but we added a ton of familiar European waders to the trip list here, as well as Kittlitz’s Plover on the salt marsh adjacent to the path.  On the other side of the road I ventured out into the sandy habitat and picked up a Cape Longclaw on call and then had some mediocre views of a pair distantly in a bush which I only got record shots of (my trip reports mostly try and avoid total record shots however!). Adding to the experience were Angulate Tortoises all over the place, ranging from tiny ones only a couple of inches long to soup-bowl sized ones. Closer to the Geelbek vistor centre and restaurant we picked up a couple of African Hoopoe, a group of Speckled Dove, and the ever-present Cape Spurfowl.

Kittlitz's Plover

Three-banded Plover

As we still had a short while before it was officially lunchtime we drove for about ten minutes to the Atlantic viewpoint on the west side of the lagoon. Here another of our major targets fell, with excellent views of a Black Harrier quartering the dunes. The view here was magnificent  - distant Cape Gannets against the waves rolling in, and the spouts of Whales clearly visible.

Black Harrier

After a light lunch at the Geelbek we then drove the western side of the lagoon up to the seal colony at the entrance – Tsaarsbank – seeing another Black Harrier along the way and several Black-winged Kites. At the parking area a quick scan out to sea had Campbell excitedly pointing out a Giant Petrel quite close in which was most unexpected. A more detailed scan picked up about 20 of these Antarctic monsters either resting outside of the surf or cruising along the waveline. We took some long distance shots in the hope of being able to ID to species (Northern and Southern are very similar indeed), and concluded on Northern due to the obviously darker bill-tip. At the colony itself we had our first Crowned Cormorants and African Oystercatchers, and a pair of White-fronted Plovers assiduously guarded a young chick in the white sand near the rocks. Somewhat incongruous were two juvenile Black-crowned Night Herons, one of those pan-global species like Cattle Egret that you see basically everywhere you go.

A monstrosity - both the bird and the photo! Northern Giant Petrel.

White-fronted Plover

Hartlaub's Gull

At this point our trip list was a very healthy 144, but it had not been a great day for photography as evidenced by the mainly below par illustrations in this post. With this in mind, and with the end of the harsh light in sight (we found that after 9am it became rather unpleasant until at least 4.30pm) we headed all the way back anti-clockwise around the lagoon to an obvious granite hill with a small building on the top of it. From this elevated position we hoped to spot a Korhaan below and then descend to intercept it and get stunning photographs. The first part of this plan worked very well, with a bird found by Campbell almost immediately. The second part was not quite as successful when we stumbled on the Korhaan at close range only to have it vanish into the vegetation instantaneously and permanently!

Southern Fiscal Shrike

With this failure under our belts we decided to spend the final part of the day back at Darling Hills knowing that the light would be really nice on the Wheatears. At the very start of the road we stumbled upon our third Korhaan of the day but again getting images proved very difficult, or at least not of the standard we wanted. Good bins views at last though, the neck is incredibly spindly for such a chunky bird. As expected the light was wonderful for the Wheatears but unfortunately they were not at all keen on being digitised and we were left stymied as the sun set.

Southern Black Korhaan

Blue Crane

Capped Wheater. Getting better but still not sufficient!

It had been a long day and with Cape Town an hour away still we had been on the go for 16 hours and we were pretty knackered. Normally I don’t do guided visits preferring to make my own way, but on this short trip it made perfect sense to have a guide for a few days and we saw a lot more as a result – our guide was very sharp indeed, both on sight and on call. And when the days are 16 hours long you definitely feel that you are getting your money’s worth! We bid goodbye to Campbell at Kirstenbosch and agreed to meet again at the more civilised time of 6.30am the following morning for the trip out east.