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NEW KID ON THE BLOCK - RICHARD MASSON ON GREYTON OUTING

Posted on the 23rd June 2011

GREYTON OUTING 11 JUNE 2011

Despite the promising forecast by the Weather Bureau, Saturday June 11th, the day planned for the Birdlife Overberg Greyton outing dawned overcast with heavy mist and intermittent drizzle. Nevertheless, optimistic that the weather would lift, the group set off for Greyton from Onrus via the Swartrivier Road and Dassiesfontein. Sadly the mist and drizzle persisted preventing any birding although we did get an opportunity to explore Greyton and browse the Saturday morning market. Come late morning a decision was taken to abandon the outing due to the miserable weather and word that there was flooding in the surrounding mountains. In its place, Anton proposed conducting an Atlassing demonstration and on offer was lunch at one of the many local restaurants.

Large-billed Lark
Clapper Lark

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As it was my first time in Greyton I was reluctant to give up the opportunity to do some birding as well as practise some new found knowledge from both attending David Allan’s LBJ course three weeks ago on larks, pipits and cisticolas and new information learned on using my image stabilised lens. I generally judge the success of my outings not necessarily by the birds seen but by the birds I have been able to successfully photograph. I use a Canon 100–400 IS lens, bought second hand a year ago in fine condition but with no handbook. My in flight photos had improved but I have been disappointed with my still shots, especially when using a monopod, bean-bag or window mount. Turns out that I have been blissfully unaware the stabiliser should be switched off at high shutter speeds and I have had it in “On” option from the beginning. I also learnt when Mode 1 (static subject) and Mode 2 (panning) options should be used! This I discovered through reading an article in the recent Birding magazine (the one that announces Elaine’s win of the binoculars) on using Image Stabilizers.

So saying farewell to the group, I set off on the dirt road to Riviersonderend which after 13 Kms has a branch cutting across the N2 to Jongensklip and is one of my favourite roads from the Stanford side. What had begun as a disappointing outing was about to take a turn for the good. Soon after leaving Greyton the mist lifted, the sun began to show through a partly clouded sky and unlike the Stormers this Saturday, the birds came out to play. My first stop was for a Giant Kingfisher at the second river after leaving Greyton. I spotted it perched in an overhanging tree close to the road but it flew off to a power line where a photograph only for identification purposes was feasible. Next was an Agulhas Clapper Lark (my second sighting ever) close to the road – after taking some insurance shots I dared to approach it more closely and captured it singing albeit half heartedly. In the space of a few hundred metres from the Jongensklip Road turn off there was a Black Harrier quartering in the distance (too far to photograph), Stonechats right by the road, a Secretary Bird just across the bridge, a African Fish-Eagle flying overhead and bishops, weavers, drongos, fiscals, yellow canaries in abundance.

African Pipit

 

Agulhas Long-billed Lark

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A little further on and a Thick-billed Lark in full voice and African Pipit were trusting and allowed me a close approach. Numerous groups of Red-capped Larks were chasing each other around and they were often in the road, although this tendency to stay on the ground makes them more difficult to photograph. The Capped Wheatears were not as confiding as I have experienced in the past but I did manage to get some reasonable shots.

The special for my day was a first ever sighting of an Agulhas Long-billed Lark perched singing on a fence post about 300m in from the N2 Highway. Having learnt to identify it on David Allan’s LBJ course, I have been manifesting this bird and to actually find it and have it patiently pose for me was a thrill. It was gratifying on this morning to have had good views of the main larks and pipits we are likely to encounter in the Overberg.

The cisticolas were not as forthcoming and I was only able to photograph the Grey-Backed Cisticola. It was pleasing to have some confidence in identifying the bird through the knowledge gained from Anton’s Flight for Birders and David Allan’s LBJ courses and from which I recall the 2 long tailed cisticolas are Levaillant’s and Grey-Backed. A slight streaking on the chest led me to conclude this to be the Grey-backed. This was reinforced by Anton’s advice that the bird most often occurs on the first rise away from water. I was however disappointed not to find the Cloud Cisticola and scanned the tops of grassy rises hoping to find it to verify that we in the Western Cape have it easy (according to David Allan) as only our short tailed Cloud Cisticola has “spotting” on the chest.

Grey-backed Cisticola

 

Karoo Prinia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have invested in a set of bird call CD’s which I play as I drive along in an attempt to learn to identify the different calls and as luck would have it the Karoo Prinia call was playing at the same time I spotted one in the bushes next to the road. I replayed the call a few times and the Prinia appeared very interested, a fact I can verify with the photographs. I think if it were a bit closer to breeding season it might have even come closer to investigate. This was my first experience of using bird calls and it does pique the interest.

Blue Cranes were also abundant, mostly now in pairs or small groups. Two of the pairs were displaying and doing their mating dance, a fantastic sight. One of the cranes I photographed was ringed and it reminded me to enquire whether it is useful to anyone to report such sightings and if so, where to do so. Other interesting sightings for the day included three Rock Kestrels almost at equidistant intervals, hunting over the newly planted fields. My imagination led me to believe they should be in hilly or rocky areas (the other place I have seen them is at Die Plaat in Gansbaai) and I must admit I double checked to make sure they were not Lesser Kestrels which I thought were more common in open and agricultural lands. However, the latter should have migrated for the winter and do not have the spotted backs of the kestrels seen.

It took about 3,5 pleasurable hours for me to cover the distance from Greyton back home to Stanford and although the original objective was not achieved, I had a fantastic birding outing and can still look forward to another outing to Greyton to visit the Nature Reserve.

As to my new found knowledge on image stabilisation, well, after reviewing the shots from the day the improvement is unbelievable but rather than rue the missed opportunities of the past year, I’m going to treat it like a kid with a new toy and look forward in anticipation to the opportunity to get out and do it again even better.

Secretarybird
Spur-winged Goose

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

COMMENTS

1392
DEBORAH STAUNTON (posted: 2011-06-24)
Very impressed big boet, or should I call you "new kid on the block"? Lovely photos, keep it up and keep enjoying
ALETTA ROBERTSON (posted: 2011-06-23)
Very good report and photographs. Well done!