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).
If you want big game at an easily accessible park with good infrastructure, then Addo is magnificent. Addo has been an annual destination for me for many, many years and I decided this time I would camp again - the last time being about 10 years ago. I’m afraid that once I arrived, I had the feeling of “been there done that” and tried to upgrade to more salubrious accommodation. However, on the Saturday I arrived there was not one bed available thus no chance of upgrading. So I bravely made the best of it. One very close neighbor probably summed it up when he remarked this was like being in Hillbrow in the wilderness. We were on top of one another. I think for future visits I will restrict myself to Spekboom Tented Camp where you do have a true wilderness experience.
Two days of drizzly weather did not help the situation, but none-the-less the birds (and elephants) were excellent. I added no new birds photographed to my list but had close up views of Black-collared Barbet, Cape Longclaw, SombreGreenbul, Ant-eating Chats, larks, pipits and Pale Chanting Goshawk. In the camp-site there were the usual weavers, bulbuls, bishops and an Emerald-spotted Wood Dove as well as African Hoopoe with her fledgling.  At night Barn Owls, Spotties and Fiery-necked Nightjars were vocal andNeddicky called constantly throughout the park.
One very interesting sighting was a boomslang in the open field at the top of the Gorah Loop. There was no tree within a mile and I think the snake was after the same as me - I was trying to photograph juvenile Red-capped Larks which were abundant. The snakes name suggests natural habitat of trees and it will be interesting to learn whether it is normal for them to venture into open lands.

Ant-eating Chat
Emerald-spotted Wood-dove 










In the rainy weather, the swallows were out in full force and there were hundreds of Barn, Pearl-breasted and White-throated Swallow.The Wattled Starlings appear to have taken lessons from Cattle Egret and were following the Zebra and Buffalo herds, using them to flush insects which were quickly caught and eaten. Bokmakierie are common along with Bar-throated Apalis and Karoo Prinia. This was towards the end of November and evidence suggested that Addo birds follow quite closely the breeding timing of our Cape birds as most young appeared to have already fledged and the only bird I saw actually nest building was a Karoo Prinia. One of the birds still in its nest was a Forest Weaver (I think) which had a solitary long throated nest in the middle of the bush. I spent some time at this nest trying to get a photograph of the bird entering or leaving the nest as this is missing from my photo list. I failed but there is always next time.
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. 

Black-collared Barbet
















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