Rufousnaped Lark

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Sunday, February 3, 2013

Recent Birding outings

Howzit? I haven't had to time to blog lately (honestly :-)) with my recent change in circumstances and starting a new company, its been rush, rush, rush over the last few months. I have however done a few birding trips which I thought I would share,. One of them included a sighting of the elusive White-backed Night-heron which I am sure is on a lot of peoples wish lists. I also went out to Mkhombo Dam again which is an area I really love to visit. Just a pity it is so far from home. Oh and Getaway website used one of my photos for their site recently which you can see at http://blog.getaway.co.za/wildlife/birding/the-cape-floral-kingdom/.

Firstly, the White-backed Night-Heron....I sent my wish list through to a good birding bud who noticed that I hadn't seen this bird and so on the following Sunday I met up with him at a bridge crossing a small stream on one of the back roads through Mpumalanga, parked the cars and after a 200m walk next to the river came up with this chap or chapess on the opposite bank of the river (So if you are reading this, thanks Richard ).



I have done a couple of birding trips to Mkhombo, the first was in November where Phil Penlington and I went looking for the Chestnut-banded Plovers and came up trumps for a change with some good views and great photos of adult breeding and non-breeding birds..


Breeding Chestnut-banded Plover

Non-breeding Chestnut-banded Plover

We also saw an Osprey that had just caught a fish.




Osprey
 Another interesting spectacle was a large flock of mixed Egrets and Spoonbills feeding in the shallows just off shore. They kept in a tight group, wading or flying forward in stages whilst feeding constantly. They kept this up for about 100m with the Black Egrets seeming to try to stay ahead of the group all the time. They would fly forward, spread their wings over their heads to form a canopy as they normally do and then fly off again as soon as the larger birds caught up.

Black Egrets flying off ahead of the flock
Here they land ahead of the feeding flock again

They immediately assume hunting position with backs to the wind

Here they start to move forward again as the flock catches up

We also got this very interesting looking Yellow Wagtail in moult which looks like it could the flavissima race (the British race) of this species but I dare not speculate for fear of being ridiculed by those in the know.. although I have probably already opened myself up for some serious body shots....


Yellow Wagtail
 
Mkhombo is great for waders as well and some of the common ones are...


Little Stint

Ruff - getting his waltz all wrong

Wood Sandpiper (with Little Stint in the background)

Common Greenshank

Common Ringed Plover

In Late December JP was up in Pretoria from the Lowveld to visit in early Jan so he and I also did a trip to Mkhombo to try and find the Whimbrel, Bar-tailed Godwits and Chestnut-banded Plovers which had been seen there but unfortunately we dipped on all of them. One plus point was that we came across the inland race of the White-fronted Plover which got me/us pretty excited initially.

White-fronted Plover

There were plenty of Yellow Wagtails around in different plumage's, which made identifying the races a bit tricky but I think they were these:-

Motacilla flava flava moulting adult


Motacilla flava flava - male in breeding plumage


Motacilla flava flava - non breeding plumage

Motacilla flava flava - 1st winter bird?

Motacilla flava flavissima moulting male (I think this is the same bird as the first Yellow Wagtail image at the top of the page but taken two weeks later)

As far as bushveld birds were concerned we found a Juvenile Great Spotted Cuckoo which had found a huge caterpillar and was beating it to death on a convenient branch. There didn't seem to be much left of it when I took this photo.

Juvenile Great Spotted Cuckoo

More excitement came in the form of my first confirmed Icterine Warbler ( I think all the others may have been Willow Warblers). It's a bit embarrassing to admit this by the way...seeing as I have been birding for the last 20 years...

Icterine Warbler - note yellow colour and GREY legs :-)

Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters are plentiful and we saw them on both occasions sitting on the numerous petrified tree stumps scattered around the shore just waiting to shred a tyre. The bee-eaters are fairly approachable and allow a photo session as long as you stay in the vehicle.

Blue-cheeked Bee-eater

On both visits there was a flock of Greater Flamingos made up mainly of juvenile birds and a few adults. It looked almost like a type of creche?


Greater Flamingos

Finally, what would an African bird watching outing to a dam be without the old Fish Eagle, this guy always seems to be at the same place near the dam inflow.

African Fish Eagle

There is not going to be much time for birding or blogging this year by the looks of it but I will try to sneak out now and again for some photos and a story....

Oh and one more photo to make the mouth water and keep the brain ticking over..


Mystery Eagle - taken in a pine forest in Mpumalanga

Hahaha.....with that I say...toodles!!

Friday, December 7, 2012

The Quick Twitch

Well, what can I say? On Thursday 6th I braved the protest marchers and potential traffic delays to go and view the latest rarity to South Africa. A Collared Flycatcher was seen by a local birder and ringer, Malcolm Wilson, in his Robindale garden in Randburg Gauteng and he quickly put the news out for all the twitchers come and see. Some European birders are probably wondering what all the fuss is all about but this was only the 9th recorded sighting of this species in South Africa. It was first sighted on Tuesday 4th and by Thursday an estimated 400 birders had been through his garden and surrounding suburb to see and photograph the bird.

I left home at 15h30 and I reached the turnoff on the highway at the same time that I reached the back end of the protest march and with a bit of detours arrived at the house at around 16h16. Luckily when I got there, there were only a few birders and I could move around and photograph to my hearts content. The bird kept his distance and left me wishing I had a longer lens again!! Any sponsors out there wanting to get rid of a 400mm f2.8 Canon lens with a converter or two??

Anyway here of the results of my attempts. Not very good I'm afraid as the lighting was poor, I didn't take my tri-pod (silly me) and the distance was too great...








Collared Flycatcher (6)

I am also seriously thinking of changing my blog name from The Lazy Birder to The Busy Birder because I always have to be somewhere else when I have a gap to go birding! Rush, rush, rush....

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Amsterdam Rd and Hoogland Health Hydro

I popped out for a quick birding trip the other day to Amsterdam Rd to see if the Cuckoofinches and Melodius Larks were about but I dipped on both of them. All I got was a Capped Wheatear with a juvenile and some distant Clapper Larks and the usual Rufousnaped Larks and Whitewinged Korhaans.

Adult Capped Wheatear

Juvenile Capped Wheatear

There was a Micro-light aircraft practising its landing procedures which probably contributed to the lack of birds as well as some off-road bikers that were tearing around the place making a racket! I decided to go through to Hoogland Health Hydro to see what was about here and was pleasantly surprised with a Yellow-throated Petronia pair that were feeding their chicks at the nest in a tree stump right next to the road. The nest was in a tree next to a slope so I could get up high and photograph level with their position.. This is the first time I have seen this species so close to home!



Yellow-throated Petronia (3)
Not wanting to disturb the Petronias too much I left them after a few minutes and headed down to reception to announce my presence. Down at reception I found a very obliging Kurrichane Thrush who sat still while I got a few photos of him.



Kurrichane Thrush (2)

Another interesting sighting for this area was a Short-toed Rock-thrush which is only supposed to be a winter visitor to this site?

Short-toed Rock-thrush

After asking for permission, I took a drive to the air-field which has a picnic site nearby. This was a great spot for some good birds, I saw Lesser Honeyguide, Bru-bru, Violet-backed Starling, Red-throated Wryneck, Paradise Flycatcher, Black Cuckooshrike, Black-backed Puffback, Klaas' Cuckoo and SA Cliff Swallows. On the drive up there I heard Red-wing Francolins calling higher up and spotted a Black-breasted Snake-eagle circling overhead. I could not get close enough for decent photos of any of these species however.

Finally for the possible reptile fans out there who may find this site, I photographed two interesting fellows who I have tentatively identified as a Transvaal Girdled Lizard and a Spotted Gecko but if you know better then let me know the correct names, thanks!

Transvaal Girdled Lizard?

Spotted Gecko?

That's all I have time for now but I had a great trip to Mkhombo Dam again last weekend which I will be posting shortly so keep an eye out for it.

Cheers!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Spring Time Birding in Gauteng

I can't believe that this year has flown past so quickly and so much has happened this year. It is definately going to be a year to remember. Well so far the Spring is has arrived and brought with it lots of rain and lots of migrants that have arrived earlier than usual. It all started when the Greater Striped Swallows arrived almost a 10 days earlier than they have for at least the last 5 years, then the Red-chested Cuckoo was heard calling on the 17th October whereas we normally only hear them around the 30th and the Paradise Flycatchers arrived on the 21st October, much earlier than the first week of November. I wonder what these signs mean....they can only mean good things! Maybe they know the Mayan calender and want to enjoy their last African summer......tee hee hee....

Other interesting sightings in the garden since the beginning of spring were our first Olive Pigeon, a (European) Marsh Warbler which was sighted having a dip in the bird bath on the 14th, a Wattled Starling on the 17th and a Rose-ringed Parakeet flying overhead. The Bronze Mannikins have become regular visitors now and we see them almost everyday which is still exciting for me to sit and watch them. I suppose the excitement of seeing them will wear off eventually as this tends to happen when birds become regulars to the garden. I can't even imagine that when we first moved in here 18 years ago we didn't have Karoo Thrush or Cape Robin in the garden (which was pretty bleak). Now as many as 5 Thrushes at a time display on the lawn and up the paths around the house dragging their wings and fanning their tails to attract the ladies. They are really comical when they do this and extremely bold. Our garden list has now grown to a cool 108 species in the last 18 years with 45 species being seen for the month of October.... Although this total also includes birds flying overhead there are 37 species which regularly visit our garden itself.

Anyway, I have really been battling with my camera to get nice crisp images and after much experimentation have re-calibrated the auto-focus using a calibration chart set at 45 degrees to the camera. It is now set to minus 7 and I am much happier with the result. For more details on how to set your own autofocus see Bill Majoros' website listed under My Favourite Websites..(http://www.thirdbirdfromthesun.com/mac.html). He has an excellent photographic instruction manual (that you can read for free) which has very detailed information on just about everything to do with bird photography and he is a nice (and patient) guy who is happy to explain the technical stuff if you ask him!



So, here are some garden bird images after the auto focus calibration. Please feel free to comment to if you feel that there is a difference in the image sharpness (or not). I have done some re-sizing of the images for quicker uploads and one unsharp mask after the resize, on the parrot and hornbill shots I did adjust the shadows and highlights a bit but then again these were more record shots of special birds in the garden. We were on our way out when the hornbill arrived so had the wife pressing me to hurry up with that photo. I don't think it is that bad under the circumstances??

Red-faced Mousebird

Black-throated Canary

Sorry for this one but when you are eager to try out the new auto focus setting, any birdy subject will do!! But, hey, they have their own characters and being birds I enjoy them just as much as the others. Using Sir David Attenboroughs ranking formula on the BBC program Life of Birds (based on the bib size), this must be at least a lieutenant? A rather cheeky one as he was later seen chasing off a Colonel...

House Sparrow

Some more Glossy Starling shots.....you regular visitors have probably seen enough of them on my blog. But aren't they pretty??


Tried a panoramic crop here..


And a Portrait type shot...

Cape Glossy Starling (3)

Oh and some time in October we heard a strange call from the front garden. I initially thought that the neighbour must have got a new parrot but then realised after half the day had gone by that the call was coming from the Karee tree right outside our lounge window...on closer inspection it turned out to be a Senegal Parrot. Not an indigenous bird in our area but a very popular cage bird so someone had lost a good R900 worth of exotic parrot.

Senegal Parrot

Finally, the Hornbill photo......competition time, if you can sex the bird you win bragging rights for a month. No peeking in the books now, this should be an easy one!

Red-billed Hornbill

I really hope I will be getting out soon to bring you more exciting bird photos but with a new job and a reputation to uphold I can't promise anything.

Toodles!