Posted on the 22nd January 2015

For my annual bush and camping week from 21 to 30 November last year I visited three of our national parks, Addo and Mountain Zebra in the Eastern Cape and Nature’s Valley in Western Cape and spent 3 nights in each. Traditionally, I take this time to visit Kgalagadi, however Dearly Beloved had asked I not return thereunless she can join me, and these were a good alternative choice and still within reasonable driving distance. (It was decided to break this long report into three shorter reports, each with it's own photographs. - Ed).

I spent the first night in transit on the way to the Eastern Cape in a forest hut at Nature’s Valley but did little birding although the Knysna Turaco and Chorister Robin Chat came to investigate who had taken up residence. On the return leg though I spent 2 nights there and therefore more time for birding. I think I find forest birding the most difficult of all the habitats and wish there was someone around with more experience to shed a little more light (literally) on some of these elusive birds. Once you do locate a bird, photography is very tricky and I found I was forced to using ISO speeds of around 3 200 most of the time, which makes for grainy shots. The other factor about Nature’s Valley is that it is such a beautiful spot that there is a natural tendency to want to relax and I found myself quite content sitting at the forest hut rather than trekking through the forests. Walking round the camp-site is fruitful. The Knysna Turaco, Olive Thrush, Chorister Robin-Chat, SombreGreenbul, Lemon Dove, African Dusky Flycatcher, Cape Batis and Bar-throated Apalis are all confiding and offered good views.
Before descending into Nature’s Valley, I stopped in the fynbos to try and find the Lazy Cisticola. Although there were none to be seen, I was rewarded with Cape Grassbird. Overhead were Black Sawwing and I had a good sighting of Crowned Eagle. On the river, there were Yellow-billed Ducks, Reed Cormorant and Pied Kingfisher.
I spent a late afternoon and a full 4 hours the next morning in the forest opposite the camp-site. I had been advised that the Boardwalk trail was closed although subsequent reading of the Plettenberg Bay Bird Club Newsletter suggests it may have been better to explore what was available of the Boardwalk Trail rather than tackling the quite a demanding climb up through the trees to the fynbos area. I did have an interesting encounter on one of the more precipitous parts of the trail. I was sitting on a tree root, both catching my breath and using some “call-back”, when a whooshing sound approached rapidly from up the mountain. It was a mountain biker, flying down the path and although we avoided making contact I think our pulse and heart rates both quickened considerably for the next few minutes.

Knysna Turaco
Chorister Robin-Chat










Black-backed Puffback










The most frequently met bird in the forest was Black-backed Puffback. Green Wood Hoopoe had a nest high up in a hole in a dead tree and were very vocal round the nest site - fascinating to watch their rolling antics as they display above you. I had reasonable views of Yellow-throated Woodland-Warblers and good sightings of Green-backed Cameroptera – a first for my photo list. Black-headed Oriole and Red-chested Cuckoo were vocal but not seen. Dusky and African Paradise-Flycatchers and sunbirds were seen a few times.
My target species was Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher and as a long-shot, Narina Trogon. No luck with either. When I returned, I received the Plettenberg Bay Bird Club Newsletter which reiterates my resolve to accompany someone with experience next time I go forest birding. This is an excellent newsletter. I hope I was not the “Out-of-Town” birder referred to that continuously played call-back for Scaly-throated Honeyguide, although if it had been the Blue-mantled Crested-Flycatcher perhaps I would have been guilty. I confess I did play the Scaly-throated call occasionally – but at least now I have learnt that the honeyguide is not likely to respond to call-back. I have also resolved to join the Tankwa Karoo Birding Bonanza in April 2015 to allow experienced birders to show me those birds at the arid end of the habitat scale.

Yellow-fronted Woodland-Warbler
Green-backed Cameroptera










I believe the Big Bird-Guide in the Sky bestows blessings on us birders. There were 2 examples of these blessings from this trip. As is my habit, when I arrived at Mountain Zebra just before noon, I traced the shadows from the tree at my chosen site, stuck the stick in the ground and boiled the kettle for a cup of tea whilst sitting back to see which way the sun would be setting. An Acacia Pied Barbet was calling from a tree nearby and I took my camera to photograph it. It was midday and the photos were so-so. In accordance with Anton’s “mossie syndrome”, I paid little attention to the bird in the background, probably assuming it was a Streaky-headed Seedeater. My geography exercise paid dividends and I found I did not know my North from my South and that my chosen site would be in full sun for the afternoon siesta. I therefore moved 2 sites down, adjacent to the tree in which the barbet had been sitting. Whilst lying on the bed for my nap the next afternoon, I again saw the “nondescript” bird and realised it was not a seedeater. After watching it for a while, I noticed a hole in the tree which was probably an old barbet’s nest. A fledgling then stuck its head out of the nest. It took me some time to establish what the bird was. On the trail I met a retired couple from Port Elizabeth (whilst watching the African Rock Pipit) and when telling them about this new find, she said “it sounds like the name of a sea-shell” and her husband said “no, more like the name of a flower”. It was in fact a Yellow-throated Petronia and probably the last bird I expected to see (here or ever). Had I not moved camp-sites, I would not ever have realized that in the first photo of the barbet with the out of focus bird in the background, I had captured an image of a lifer for my photo list.
The second experience was at Nature’s Valley. It was 4:30 in the morning of the last day of my trip and I was gearing myself for an early departure for the long drive back to Stanford. On my way down I had stayed in Forest Hut 4 and I requested this on the return trip, but the receptionist informed me I would be in Number 3 and recommended this as a better site. Tea seems to play a part in these blessings - I was enjoying an early morning cuppa on the front deck overlooking my little patch of river, the light was just beginning to brighten and in the reflection off the still water, I could see a kingfisher. The kingfisher dived into the pool twice and each time settled back on its perch and although still too dark for a photograph, I could see it was a Half-collared Kingfisher. I watched it for more than half an hour before it flew upstream. The only other time I have seen this kingfisher was when we took the ferry up the Keurbooms River with the objective to find this bird.Here I merely sat on my front deck.
These 2 sightings must count as blessings as they were entirely dependent on the camp sites I ended up at. It was a fitting end to a wonderful birding and camping trip. 

Forest Canary
Half-collared Kingfisher










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