Taking the gap - a quick visit to Grahamstown for family celebrations
14 – 16 October 2017
So this trip was actually about celebrating a 60th birthday, but I find that when it comes to birding opportunities where there is a will there is a way…
Driving up the N2 from Bot River to Grahamstown at 120 kms obviously only allowed for limited sightings of the bigger birds – Helmeted Guineafowl, Cape Spurfowl, Spurwing Geese, Cattle Egrets, Common Fiscals, Egyptian Geese, Blue Cranes, Grey Heron, Hadedas, Red-knobbed Coots, Pied and Cape Crows and a White-necked Raven. Only a few raptors were spotted – the Jackal Buzzards were the most common and surprisingly not too many Yellow-billed Kites were seen. A couple of Black-shouldered Kites and a Pale Chanting Goshawk was a highlight! When we stopped for fuel – the Red-winged Starlings, House Sparrows and the Common Starlings were usually present!
Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk
Western Cattle Egret
We made it to the farm, which is 40km outside of Grahamstown and neighbours onto Shamwari and down the road from Pumba Game Reserves on the Alicedale Road. While everyone lay in after the party the dawn chorus had me up and out walking at 6am. The peace and quiet was special and I only had the birds, sheep and cows for company!
The Hadeda’s had been my wakeup call and there were lots roosted in the trees. Walking down towards the dam I spotted Speckled Pigeons and Laughing Doves on the ground with the Turtle Doves calling from the shed roof (this together with the Hadeda’s call is a very familiar childhood memory of the farm). Egyptian Geese, Black-headed Heron, Cattle Egrets and Sacred Ibis were all seen. But the great excitement was spotting the flash of red (almost) in the Oak trees – a Red-throated Wryneck (lifer!). Spent quite a while watching this bird who was so like a woodpecker in mannerisms.
The Weavers were busy collecting material and building nests - the Cape, Village and Southern Masked were all present. It is quite nice to be able to compare the differences in appearance of the latter two.
Red-throated Wryneck 1
Red-throated Wryneck 2
Walking up the mountain a nippy wind from the south seemed to make the birds shy, but the following were seen: Common Fiscal, Cape Bulbul, Dark-capped Bulbul, Cape Canary, Common Waxbill and a fly-over of the resident breeding Blue Cranes gave me a huge fright as they were loudly calling (a first for me).
Along the top of the mountain and out of the wind the birds were more active. Acacia Pied Barbet, Neddicky and Karoo Prinia’s were seen in the Karoo scrub. Cape White-eye, Streaky-headed Seedeaters and the Bulbuls were abundant. The Bokmakierie and the Southern Boubou’s alerted me to their presence with their calling. A Pied Crow had an aerial fight with a Jackal Buzzard and a Rock Kestrel also flew by.
The highlight on the mountain was the African Olive Pigeons, who I initially dismissed as Speckled Pigeons from a distance. But when I got to within hearing range and heard the very distinctive call I realized my mistake! This is only my second sighting the other was with Chris and Paula near Grootvaderbosch.
I was now ready for breakfast as I had been out and about for 3 hours – so headed back to the farm house. All was still very quiet except for the half-hearted welcome bark from the resident Great Danes. So a quick tour around the beautiful gardens to while away some time was called for. I managed to add quite a few more to my list. Three Sunbirds – the Greater and Southern double-collared plus the Amethyst were flitting about. Speckled Mousebirds, Cape White-eyes, Dark-capped Bulbuls, Fork-tailed Drongo, Olive Thrush, Cape Rock Thrush (who are building nests on the stoep), African Hoopoe, Southern Boubou, Cape Wagtail were quite conspicuous. A highlight was the flash of yellow which I managed to follow and ID as the beautiful Black-headed Oriole.
I managed a quick visit to the Botanical Gardens in Grahamstown. The stream bridge never disappoints and we were graced by the beautiful Knysna Turacos. Again the different Weavers were busy building nests and the Black-headed Oriole posed for a photograph while the African Paradise Flycatchers were flitting about. Cape White-eyes and Turtle Doves were noisy. The African Dusky Flycatcher, the Fork-tailed Drongo, Fiscal Flycatcher, Cape Robin-chat, Red-winged and Common Starlings were all busy in the trees above the pathway. Down near the bamboo end a Red-necked Spurfowl and the beautiful Brown-hooded Kingfisher were spotted. Amongst the reed patch I heard Little Rush and Lesser Swamp Warblers and saw Southern Red Bishops.
Driving back from Grahamstown to the farm a Long-crested Eagle was spotted in the distance and we stopped to photograph the unusual and out of range Letchwe buck that I last saw in Moremi, Botswana (they are being bred on the neighbour’s farm). But at the little wetland area nearby, a Grey Heron was on the hunt, a Stonechat was on the fence plus a Long-tailed Widowbird (lifer #2) was displaying for the ladies.
Celebrating birthdays, birds and Boekenhout farm – what a wonderful visit to the Eastern Cape!
65 birds and 2 lifers
Report and images by Jenny Parsons of BirdLife Overberg