Posted on the 16th April 2013

Outing to Natures Valley – 1st December 2012

(This outing report first appeared in the April 2013 edition of the Lakes Bird Club Newsletter and is duplicated with the permission of the editor. - Ed.)

I volunteered to do the write-up for this outing. However, Wessel Rossouw’s Atlas Delight No 26 seemed to sum up the morning so well that, with his permission I am reproducing an edited version below. Due to space constraints I am not including his photos except for that of the Half-collared Kingfisher which was so delightful that it couldn’t be left out:

The story of the three musketeers (a most entertaining book by the French author Alexandre Dumas) is most probably one of the best known stories all over the world. It seems to me to be a bit of a misnomer as there was a fourth member (D’Artagnan; that is if my French is correct) to this intrepid group that would actually suggest that they were four musketeers. This story came to my mind as we got ready to start our last outing for the year. We were three (John, Alasdair and myself) until the phone rang and the fourth member (Oswald) pitched up. This was it, but numbers have never made any difference to enjoyable birding. As a matter of fact we concluded that the optimum number for good birding would be four people as they make less noise than forty (of course!)

We set off into the camp area and were completely surprised by how many birds we discovered in a very small space and in a relatively short time. We walked extra carefully and quietly, not because of the birds, but because there were quite a number of campers still sleeping and we would prefer not to end up with a pair of binos or camera shoved down the throat (the latter being a bit difficult to swallow because of the sharp edges and corners).

We kept on getting all excited by a White-necked Raven (Withalskraai) that kept on flying overhead imitating (or so it seemed) a Crowned Eagle (Kroonarend) as John had related the story of Sue getting a nice picture of the Crowned Eagle in the camp on a previous trip. Actually in sequence the first photo I took was of the nest of a Greater Double- collared Sunbird (Groot- rooibandsuikerbekkie) before we even started off. Here the female came popping out of the nest after presumably feeding the young.

Dudley would have loved this trip as he would have had a wonderful opportunity to see a Terrestrial Brownbul (Boskrapper). This one sat around for what to its kind would be an inordinately long time. The fact that I could get in four shots (of which this one was the only acceptable one) would attest to that. The light was horrible as it normally is in forest areas and it was also heavily overcast which made matters even worse as far as photography is concerned (not the birding though).

The next candidate for photographic profiling was an African Dusky Flycatcher (Donkervlieëvanger) and it was a little bit more obliging by sitting out in the open that made this picture possible even in poor light conditions. We had two specials to look for on this outing and within the first half an hour of the outing we saw the first one (and two and three of them), the Chorister Robin-chat (Lawaaimakerjanfrederik), the master of mimic.

The morning looked up as it went extremely well from step one. We then eventually succeeded in leaving the camp area and crossed the river moving into the forest trail along the river. The photo is not very good, but this is most probably the smallest bird with the longest name imaginable: the Yellow-throated Woodland-warbler (Geelkeelsanger). This was quickly followed by the Scaly-throated Honeyguide (Gevlekte Heuningwyser). As a matter of fact, we had already seen two of them in the camp area making two Olive Woodpeckers (Gryskopspeg) go completely bonkers trying to chase them away (because they parasitize the nests of the Olive Woodpecker).

The driving-to-tears call (because it is such a well-known and strident call with such little sighting success) of the Red-chested Cuckoo (Piet-my-vrou) could be heard from the moment I stopped in the parking area. As we moved, we could hear several birds calling on and off around us. It was when Alasdair peered through an opening amongst trees that he noticed this bird sitting right out in the open calling from the dead tree. It was a bit far away and as is obvious, the light was terrible, but here it is.

As we crossed the little stream in the wood John and I saw this flash of blue and we knew: KINGFISHER! But which one? It skulked down into the dry branches of an overhanging tree and we started looking to see if it would show itself again properly. And yes it did. It was a Half-collared Kingfisher (Blouvisvanger). The first picture was taken when it shifted from one perch to another, making the identification possible. The second picture was taken when we returned a while later along the same route. [see the picture below – John]

While we were studying the kingfisher an African Olive Pigeon (Geelbekbosduif) formerly known as a Rameron pigeon, came for a drink of water. It was most probably a juvenile, the yellow bill and feet unmistakably obvious, but the speckles not so much and neither was the normally bright yellow eye ring. We had just about given up on the other special of the day, the African Emerald Cuckoo (Mooimeisie) as we did not even hear one calling and we were drawing near to the parking area again when suddenly we heard two birds calling “pretty georgie, pretty georgie”. Skeptics that we were, we thought: “master of mimic, Chorister Robin-chat”. However we started looking and just when we started wondering if we were blinded by something unknown, John yelled: “I’ve got it.” Far away yes, and bad light yes, but here it is. We ended a wonderful day with a picnic lunch and this time John succeeded in keeping his lunch as the previous bunch of thieves had apparently taken the day off. We did not even see one Vervet monkey. Alasdair and I nearly ended up in the mud though when John and Oscar both got up at the same time on the other side of the picnic table and it tipped up.

However, I was also atlassing the pentad so when we said our goodbyes and we were off, I kept my eyes peeled trying to up the ante from the 38 birds on the list at that time. I immediately saw a Cape Wagtail (Gewone Kwikkie) as I turned off towards the river mouth and after I also added a Reed Cormorant (Rietduiker) and a White-breasted Cormorant (Witborsduiker), I started leaving up the pass back to the N2. I suddenly saw a Black-shouldered Kite (Blouvalk) on the power line and stopped to get a better look (remember the light and the clouds?) and suddenly realised I was way off. It was a Gabar Goshawk (Witkruissperwer). What a bonus! As I got out, the Cape Grassbird (Grasvoël) was sitting calling merrily from the top of this bush. It was also at this point that I got the picture of the flowers growing close to the ground (as usual I don’t know the name).

I thought with this kind of good fortune I might as well return via Montagu pass for a change and indeed some more wonderful sightings in spite of the rain that was now making photography even more difficult. I include a photo of an African Olive Pigeon (Geelbekbosduif) adult for the sake of comparison with the juvenile earlier. I also caught the two Forest Buzzards (Bosjakkalsvoël) on one telephone pole which seemed a bit unusual to me and then the one from the front as I idled past (the other one flew up) and if you still have the picture of the previous buzzard I mailed, you will be able to see the obvious difference in colouring, this one being even paler than usual.

All in all, a wonderful day’s birding as usual and all I can say is: “All for one and one for all!” (if you do not know, this was the war cry of the three/four musketeers).

Wessel mentioned mainly the birds that he photographed. In addition some of the others worth a mention should include the Blue-mantled Crested-flycatcher, Green-backed Camaroptera (heard), African Paradise-Flycatcher, Knysna Woodpecker (heard) and Narina Trogon (heard). We ticked a total of 41 birds not including another 7 seen by Wessel who continued atlassing in the area after we had left.

As Wessel said; a great days birding, but disappointedly with only four of us to enjoy it.

John Bircher


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