BITS OF BIRDING AT WAKKERSTROOM, NEWCASTLE AND TO THE NORTH OF PRETORIAPosted on the 9th April 2011
Elaine and myself had to attend a wedding on Dundee, KwaZulu-Natal and this gave us the opportunity of visiting some of our very dear friends in Wakkerstroom, Newcastle and Pretoria. There wasn't enough time to bird extensively, but we were able to squeeze in a few great experiences. Herewith some impressions:
THURSDAY 31 MARCH 2011: OLIVER TAMBO INTERNATIONAL TO WAKKERSTROOM This drive was very uneventful as the traffic was heavy and most of the roads are really in a bad condition – not the ideal conditions for serious birding. In total we only saw 25 species, most of which were common birds. An African Harrier-Hawk, huge number of Amur Falcons and good numbers of Black-shouldered Kites did create some excitement though. Interesting that there are so many of these birds to be seen up there compared to our neck of the woods. For the rest of the time we caught up on news with Sandra.
FRIDAY MORNING 1 APRIL: WAKKERSTROOM We were able to fit in four hours in the Wakkerstroom area. We first went to the Zaaihoek dam and obviously to the well known bridge over the Slang River. We were surprisingly not able to find Ground Woodpeckers as this is one of the main stake-outs for these birds. There were lots of chats around and we were able to pick up Ant-eating Chat, African Stonechat, Buff-streaked Chat and Mountain Wheatear. I was particularly chuffed with having been able to finally get relatively clean pictures of the Buff-streaked Chat, a bird that has eluded my camera for more than twenty years. There were still large numbers of martins around and it was great being able to compare Banded, Brown-throated, Rock and Sand Martins.
From here we went to the wetlands and were welcomed by an African Marsh-Harrier drifting over the reedbeds. We saw this bird several times at several points around the vlei and suspect that there must have been quite a few of them. There were zillions of swifts at the bridge on the road towards Amersfoort and we were able to identify six species. Sadly the boardwalk leading to the bird hides on the north-eastern side of the vlei is in total disrepair and it seems as if the planks are just being removed. The sheer numbers of waterbirds on the vlei are impressive as ever, the highlights being a pair of Grey Crowned Cranes and large numbers of African Snipes zig-zagging from one feeding spot to the other. We were also overjoyed to find Yellow-breasted Pipit. In total we were able to get 78 species in the three hours that we could spend there.
|Lerouxna, Theuns & Elaine in the hide|
FRIDAY AFTERNOON 1 APRIL: HILLTOP, NEWCASTLE We spent the evening with Theuns and Lerouxna Botha who are old buddies from our BirdLife Northern Natal days. Hilltop represents a group of smallholdings to the south of Newcastle and we got there after 16h00. We had tea in their well wooded garden and caught up on all the news, never suspecting that we would bird. We had no choice though. Theuns had established lots of massive Acacias and other interesting trees in his garden over the years thus creating beautiful piece of “bosveld” in Newcastle suburbia. Whilst chatting we were forced to pick up Acacia Pied, Black-collared and Crested Barbets, Groundscraper, Karoo and Kurrichane Thrushes, Green Woodhoopoe, Black-headed Oriole, African Palm-Swift, Red-headed Finch, Red-throated Wryneck and about thirty more species, to many to mention. They also have a resident pair of African Harrier-Hawks that have bred successfully on their property for several years. And all of this during heavy catching-up on news. What an ideal spot for a morning outing for a bird club. Thanks for the experience, Theuns and Lerouxna.
SATURDAY MORNING, 2 APRIL: NEWCASTLE SEWERAGE WORKS The Botha's insisted on taking us to this birding hotspot as BirdLife Northern Natal had developed a bird hide here in collaboration with (and sponsorship from) the Amajuba District Municipality, the Newcastle Local Municipality and uThukela Water. (This bird club gets an annual budget of R 100,00-00 from their District Municipality that is used for birding infrastructure development. This should make some people in the Western Cape Province think, shouldn't it?) The Newcastle sewerage works has a strong reputation as far as birding is concerned and large numbers of waders and waterbirds, together with great terrestrial birds are to be found here in summer. It is certainly a spot to visit when visiting Northern Natal and the new hide certainly adds value to the birding experience there. A few plug points have been made available in the hide and this allows photographers to use their laptops here for extended periods – certainly a great new innovation. Further developments being planned include the completion of toilet facilities for visitors and the development of an extensive wetland system beside the sewerage works that will be maintained through the use of waste water from the plant. The members of BirdLife Northern Natal are congratulated with this sterling effort. Some of the great birds seen from the hide included Green-backed Cameroptera, all the white egrets, Black-crowned Night-Heron and African Rail.
The rest of the Saturday and most of the Sunday was taken up by a wedding and traveling to Pretoria.
|Massed White-winged Terns|
SUNDAY AFTERNOON 3 APRIL TO WEDNESDAY MORNING 6 APRIL: THE BULTFONTEIN AREA TO THE NORTH OF PRETORIA We visited Niklaas and Maureen Erwee, Elaine's sister on their smallholding. This is area offers all of the typical garden birds that one would normally expect in the semi-tropical habitats to the north of the Magaliesberg, together with many wonderful species that one would associate with the bushveld. Upon arrival we were greeted with the fantastic call of the Pearl-spotted Owlet and these birds entertained us throughout our visit. Some interesting birds that we were able to add on the property included African Paradise-Flycatcher, Cape Glossy Starling, Arrow-marked Babbler, Grey-backed Cameroptera, Yellow-fronted Canary, Black-backed Puffback, Common Quail, Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler, Common Scimitarbill and Rufous-naped Lark. As always in summer we were entertained at dusk by the huge flock of European Bee-eaters that roost in a maroela tree on the property. A pair of Barn Owls has recently taken up residence on the property and their haunting calls at night further added to a great atmosphere.
MONDAY AFTERNOON 4 APRIL: ROOIWAL SEWERAGE WORKS This is another must do when the area to the north of Pretoria is visited. Most of the expected waterbirds of the region could be found here, but the sheer numbers of birds present simply boggles the mind. We were able to add the following species to our trip list: All three teals, Comb and Maccoa Ducks, Southern Pochard, Giant Kingfisher, Ruff and Wood Sandpiper. Terrestrial species included three cisticolas, two pipits, Thick-billed Weaver and White-winged Widowbird. Keep in mind that one should call 072193474 to gain access to Rooiwal.
We report elsewhere on our trip to the Zaagkuildrift road and the Kgomo-Kgomo area. In the end we managed to see more than 200 species on this relatively disjointed “birding trip”. Wakkerstroom and Newcastle are wonderful birding destinations and we feel strongly that members should make the effort to spend several days at the maginificant birding hotspots to the north of Pretoria.
Anton and Elaine