Rufousnaped Lark

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Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Bezhoek Lodge - Mpumalanga

Cycads - Encephalartos middelburgensis 

After our return from the UK I was invited to take part in a team doing a survey of the birds of Bezuidenhoutshoek Farm near Middelburg in the Mpumalanga province of South Africa. Adolf and I left after work on the Friday and drove through to the farm, arriving at around 21:00 with the wind blowing which didn't bode well for a good list. Obviously it was dark when we arrived and birding was rather quiet, apart from a Spotted Eagle-Owl that we flushed from the roadside. I was introduced to the rest which comprised of Eric (part owner of the farm), Vic (the birder who has an excellent knowledge of the birds on the farm) and Dave (the photographer) who works with Adolf. Our sleeping quarters were luxurious to say the least and we each had our own rooms, which meant we could each snore to our hearts contents without bothering the others....although I woke up in the early hours thinking I had heard a leopard coughing outside. This was a blessing as I had once shared a much smaller house with some serious snorers whoc kept me awake most of the night..

It felt like I had just closed my eyes for 5 minutes when It was time to get up and go birding.. At 04:29, not normally a productive time for The Lazy Birder, the first bird I heard was Natal Spurfowl followed by Black and Red-chested Cuckoos, Woodland Kingfisher and a Rufous-cheeked nightjar calling close to the house.We bundled our cameras and selves into a Landcruiser game viewing vehicle and set off into the dawn. By 05:30 our list was already at 23 and counting. We stopped for a Black Cuckooshrike that was calling and heard a Woodpecker tapping in a nearby tree. As we watched and listened I became aware of a vaguely familiar call in the background which bugged me as I tried to place it. Suddenly it dawned on me..............trogon!!! Narina Trogon, identified for the first time on this farm and pretty close to Gauteng too. The light was pretty bad as it was overcast so photograph opportunities were non-existent at this stage but we tried some shots anyway, just for the record...opening my photo account with a Violet-backed Starling female.



Violet-backed Starling - Female
One thing I was impressed with was that these guys knew how to bird, we stopped often and even had a great cooked breakfast out in the bush with Dave doing a brilliant job with his gas bottles and pans. Vic showed us his identification skills and was a great on his calls too. Eric did all the driving and I personally felt that he did an excellent job, switching off immediately after we had a called a stop to studying some flitting bird or listen to calls. During breakfast I learned that these guys had been friends since 1977 after meeting during off-road/enduro motorcycling events and they had even done the tricky Roof-of-Africa event back then, when it was more difficult on the old bikes. Having been an off-road biker myself (although probably nowhere near as dedicated as these guys) I thought that it must be a natural progression to go from biking to birding...the camaraderie between them showed through and it turned out to be a really enjoyable day of birding..

So for what it is worth, here are the best of a really bad bunch of photographs..

Levaillants (Striped) Cuckoo

Black Cuckoo

Lazy Cisticolas were common and very vociferous

Wailing Cisticola

African Quailfinch - biggest flocks I've ever seen...

Little Bee-eater

Denhams Bustard Flypast

Spike-heeled Lark - showing the spike heel for which he is named
Lesser Kestrel - female settling into the roost for the evening

And lastly so that the mammals also have a place here.....a slinky Cape Clawless Otter which we observed from a tall cliff overlooking the Olifants river which runs through the farm..

Cape Clawless Otter - see the webbed hind feet through the water?

Adolf and I had to leave on Saturday afternoon as I had other obligations to perform on the Sunday but I really hope to go back one day and do it all over again....and again.....and again....but will probably have to wait until next years bird count (if I'm lucky)


Monday, November 23, 2015

UK Oct 2015 (Part 3) - Lands End to Weymouth

Once again the bed at Lands End Hotel was very comfortable, I don't know what they make them of but they are definately not like the ones they have here in SA. If I could get one like that here I would most definately.....what is this blog all about again....oh yes, the birds I saw on the trip.

Morning at Lands End

One of the first birds I saw for the morning was another couple of lifers in the form of a few Great Black-backed Gulls with a couple of Shags on the rocks below the hotel. don't know why they call them that but I did think of a few funny scenarios when telling friends about what birds I had seen.......nope, I'd rather not say but I'm sure you have a good imagination.

Great Black-backed Gulls

European Shag

Time was running out so we headed off from Lands End, down the narrow country roads once more to the quaint little town of Mousehole (pronounced Mowzel locally). A really small village with narrow streets and houses with small doorways.

Mousehole Harbour 

We spent a bit of time here, after parking on the harbour wall we took a walk around the town and I was able to get a few photos of the local birds. Herring Gulls were plentiful as usual in the coastal areas and there seemed to be a lot of immature birds. These I identified as first winter birds?



Herring Gulls - 1st Winter Birds?

Down on the beach in the harbour I noticed some small waders running along the beach. We took a stroll down and as we got closer, we realised that they were Turnstones....not at all shy like ours in SA. I sat down in front of their intended path and managed to photograph a few before they got nervous and headed back up the beach away from us..


Turnstone

One thing that was a challenge was the light, it was overcast a lot of the time and I had to play with the ISO settings to get the shutter speed up fast enough to get sharper images. After we left Mousehole, we headed up  to Weymouth with the cloud cover getting thicker and thicker and the light fading badly.

We got to Weymouth and checked into the Riviera Hotel. After dumping our bags in the room we headed off to explore the town and I discovered that there was a bird sanctuary on the outskirts. RSPB Lodmoor! The light was really horrible by now and it was decidedly more miserable than the last few days had been. Taking a stroll around the reserve I got another few birds for the trip.

Eurasian Teal - Male 

Northern Lapwings

Eurasian Spoonbill - Immature

Eurasian Blue Tit

Eurasian Coot
And that was it for the day, it started to drizzle and after spending some trying to photograph a snipe and a distant Dunlin we headed back to the hotel for a meal and bed..Hopefully it was one of those soft comfortable ones again?

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

UK Oct 2015 (Part 2) Lynton to Lands End

We had a nice stay at the North Cliff Hotel in Lynton, the bed was extremely comfortable and the room was very cosy. It was with great effort that we got up to continue our journey, so late in fact that we opted to skip the tour of the flood museum at Lynmouth and carry on to next overnight stop at Lands End.

Lynton to Lynmouth Railway

We drove down along the coast through Bude and Bodmin until we reached the Bedruthan Steps where a giant supposedly used the rocks to cross the bay at high tide when the beach is completely submerged.

Bedruthan Steps

This was eventually where I managed to get to grips with some birds, I noticed small flocks of birds that kept landing and taking off along the cliff edge. With some patience and a bit of stalking I eventually managed to photographed them and what did they turn out to be, pipits.....Rock Pipits.



Rock Pipit (Anthus Petrosus) x 3

I really enjoyed these birds and sat and watched them for quite a while. Their high pitched piping contact calls are very un-pipitlike in my opinion and when I first saw them flying around I thought that they may be some form of euplectids? It was strange for me to see them in flocks as our pipits are mainly loners or at least associate in loose groups.

While watching them I picked up a different bird sitting right on the edge of the cliff. On closer inspection, this turned out to be a male Northern Wheatear in non-breeding plumage..


Northern Wheatear - Oenanthe Oenanthe

Unfortunately I only got the one shot as in my excitement to photograph the bird I didn't check my settings properly and completely blew the rest. Notice all the "miggies" flying around his head, as I walked along the path I had to keep dodging them so that I didn't get a face full, I imagined it was like a Star Wars movie and I was flying through a meteor field, hahahaha (I'll never grow up...).

Another bird I enjoyed watching was this Stonechat (Northern?), which is a familiar bird here in SA but this one looked somehow different, not as neat and colourful as ours but a little scruffy and grizzled looking (according to my Collins fieldguide this should be spring plumage?).

Stonechat

One bird that I heard almost everywhere I stopped was the European Robin which is very vociferous and extremely furtive at the same time. It took me a while to realise that the calls I was hearing (which sounded very sunbirdlike at times) belonged to this bird. I tried everything to get the bird in the open but as you approach them they go quiet and disappear, eventually out of frustration I played a Willow Warblers call from my Roberts Multimedia and out popped the robin..(he probably thought that it was spring and the warblers had returned).

European Robin

A real Christmas card type photo don't you think? It looks like snow in the background but its actually the light coloured roof shingles of the shed behind him...

One group of birds that were also very common on our trip were corvids. They seem to be everywhere but are very wary and don't really allow a close approach..here are two of the species we saw..

Carrion Crow

Rook

With that we left Bedruthan steps and headed off again through the hedgerows to Lands End where the sun was shining and we got some nice sunset shots and another difficult to photograph birdie..

Lands End Hotel

Lands End Panorama

We walked the paths around the hotel, enjoying the scenery and taking lots of photos. then just before the sun disappeared behind the horizon I caught up with a tiny bird which had been teasing me all day, they just don't sit still for a minute. It wasn't really a competition quality photo but at least I had a record shot of a Winter Wren..(its on the right hand rock by the way ;-) )

Winter Wren

And that was it for the day, we went to the hotel pub and spent R450 on two toasted sandwiches with crisps and salad and two beers....the restaurant food was even more expensive!! Imagine what food you could buy for that amount here in Pretoria???


R450!!!!!!
Well at least the room was nice, the bed was again very comfortable and we slept well. The view from our window was also great!!

Lands End Hotel window views!!


 Part 3 to follow shortly.....Lands End to Weymouth



Tuesday, October 27, 2015

UK - Oct 2015 (Part 1)

Hello,

Its been a while so I decided to prise myself away from the television and work and write a few lines. The Lazy Birder was sent to England for a weeks training and while there decided to spend a week touring the countryside a bit. The training was held in Swindon in Wiltshire (everybody asked "what on earth are you going to Swindon for?"). It was a smallish town when I was last there in 2005 but has grown a lot and the traffic has increased dramatically (I think I must have done a few roundabouts more than once when getting stuck in the wrong lane for my exit).

Swindon Town from the Jury's Inn


I remembered that the birding at Coate Water wasn't bad from the last time I was there, but that was in the summer and being Autumn this time around all was a bit quiet. Save for the ducks and geese lining up for a free hand-out.


Coate Water mixed flock
After the training, we headed off to Oxford for a bit of a historical tour of this University town and then travelled down to see the roman baths at Bath! The light wasn't very good as it was overcast most of the time we were travelling so had to up the ISO to as much as 3200 on my Canon 50D but the results weren't too bad. Check this one of the Mallard..

Male Mallard - Thames River Oxford
The Wood Pigeons are huge compared to ours here in SA. They were probably the most common bird we saw there. Ever noticed how the white stripes on the wings in flight resemble similar stripes painted on some Spitfires in WWII ?

Wood Pigeon - Oxford

Magpies are very common as well but extremely wary and really difficult to photograph. I managed to get a fair shot in Oxford on the outside walls of Christchurch. He didn't sit for long though before he flew off to sit in the leafy interior of a young Oak tree.

Magpie - Oxford

We had decided to visit Cardiff as well but it was quarter finals day and the Irish were playing Argentina in Cardiff, needless to say the roads were packed and we decided to turn away and head for the coast. On the way we went through Avesbury and in the village of Littleworth I saw a Red Kite fly over but wasn't fast enough to photograph it before it disappeared over the roofs of the village houses. While there I got my first pictures of White/Pied Wagtails which were also wary and difficult to photograph (are the farmers shooting birds?)


White Wagtails - Littleworth Oxfordshire

Further down the road we came across Dunster Castle (built around 1086), hidden away in the trees on a small hillock overlooking the village of Dunster and in the grounds I noticed a European Jay foraging in the long grass, he too didn't stick around for a photo session.



Dunster Castle - Somerset


European Jay - Dunster Castle


I noticed there was a National Park in North Devon so we had to take a look. The North Cliff Hotel in Lynton was our first overnight stop, which had beautiful views over the Bristol Channel with Swansea's lights twinkling in the distance.

North Cliff Hotel - Lynton


Exmoor National Park is nothing like the parks we have in SA by the way, with farmlands stretching out over the horizon in both directions from the road. The views are amazing however with so many green rolling hills, not like the brown grasslands of the Highveld of SA that we had just come from.

Exmoor National Park

Arriving in Lynton, Herring Gulls dotted the pier and I managed to creep up close enough for a full frame shot although the light wasn't great.

Herring Gull - Lynton (Exmoor National Park) North Devon

After getting settled at the hotel, my wife and I headed off to find a pub that had the TV on the quarter final between South Africa and Wales. We found The Queens pub where we ordered a pint and an 'arf a lager and settled in to watch with some locals (and a few Welshmen I noticed by the accent) luckily my Bok shirt was under the warm one (just in case). When South Africa won in the dying minutes with a lucky try, I had to keep the reaction subdued so as not to upset anyone. I couldn't resist flashing the Bok shirt when no-one was watching however.


Watching rugby in The Queens pub in Lynton
After the game I got to chatting to some of them who congratulated me (as if I had any effect on the outcome of the game) and they left. Later on we passed one of the staunch Welsh supporters who muttered in his broad Welsh accent "oh no, not twice in one day, its like rubbing salt in the wound"

Part 2 to come shortly!