KGALAGADI FEBRUARY 2019 – A TOP DAY IN MY BIRDING LIFEPosted on the 28th February 2019
I had a spur of the moment visit to Kgalagadi 2 weeks ago – decided on Sunday and was in Twee Rivieren on Tuesday only booking on arrival so I received the pensioner’s discount. My first morning coincided with Tina’s birthday and at 5:45 am I was on the phone to express well wishes. There was loud calling in the background and I located a Verreaux’s Eagl- Owl. I went and sat below it and Tina said she could clearly hear the calls. I will forever associate this bird with Tina’s birthday.
Weather plays a big part in your Kgalagadi birding. The first week at Mata Mata was dusty, apparently unseasonally windy, hot, which the wind slightly negated, with build-up of storm clouds but no rain. This was to come the following week at Nossob and contributed to what was one of the most exciting and fulfilling birding days of my life. Bear in mind that photography and photographic opportunities are important to me as the birds themselves.
By this time I had met fellow BLO member James who had been invaluable in giving guidance of where to look and set yourself up. At Mata Mata he had enlightened his companion, Dion, and I on how distinguish between a Kaap Kraai and a Gabar Goshawk. He knew the Kraai was in the tree above as it had selected his tent as its “droppings zone” – but did not believe there was also a goshawk and hence the lesson. At Nossob he advised that fellow campers said things were “quiet” (i.e. no lions or tigers) but re-assured on the birding front and set me up perfectly at CubitjeQuap the following morning. I thought he was pulling my chain when he advised that a Little Bittern had been seen there – laughable, a bittern in Kgalagadi and I put it down to his sense of humour.
Thanks James and Dion for your help and companionship. I will try and describe here the frenetic and adrenaline pumping day that unfolded. It is 6:30 in the morning, the sun, just risen, is shining and the doves, mostly Cape Turtle, are congregating and flocking down nervously to drink. The jackal is prowling and makes his first assault, jaws snapping and leaping into the air. Unsuccessful.
A juvenile Lanner Falcon is continuously harassing the birds in the thorn trees and is joined by Gabar Goshawks but none of their sorties are threatening to the doves. The mature Lanners are mostly quiet for now.
The jackal makes a second raid but again no luck.
Things suddenly go quiet and we scan around expectantly. A Brown Hyena appears out the scrub, has the waterhole to himself while enjoying a deep drink and bath. 10 minutes later he returns as quietly into the bush. A Ludwig’s Bustard makes a flyby in the background.
Another Jackal attack again with no result. It is now getting on to 8:30ish and the Lanner Falcons are becoming more active. There are a few skirmishes between the thorn trees and it looks like they are warming up. The Gabar Goshawks are also still around. A quiet period follows with a herd of Blue Wildebeest coming in to drink. There was a proprietary interest in the youngster as one the groups in the camp-site had witnessed the birth at CubitjeQuapand were asking for feedback on its survival. It was looking fit and healthy here.
I took countless shots of the Lanners hunting. They are fast, the doves and sandgrouses equally so which is part of the adrenaline rush of trying to capture the action. The closest I got is this sequence where the first 2 photos show the falcon and fleeing dove but on the money shot, the camera reverts to focusing on the background trees. A good workman blames his tools and in that blurred shot is a Lanner Falcon with a dove in its talons. One of the pleasures is that you have the opportunities and will keep trying and maybe one day will get it right.
At about this time the sandgrouse start coming in. By now the jackal seemed to have called it a day but the Lanners were still at it.
It is getting towards late morning and activity is dying down. But then, an upright bird walking across the sand. It is littler than a Little Bittern – a Dwarf Bittern. James was not pulling my chain. According to the books way out of range and I had to take photos of it surrounded by the desert birds and animals to reassure myself (and maybe others) that it was in fact there. Unbelievable and one of 5 photo lifers for the trip. I thought it would be a “sitting duck”for the predators, being mostly motionless amongst the continual comings and goings of the other birds but it was still there 5 days later.
As midday approaches it is getting overcast and I consider returning to camp to download a rapidly filling memory card and my afternoon siesta. The Gabar Goshawks had been around all morning and were now joined by a Red-necked Falcon. Perhaps because one of the Gabars was a juvenile, the adult took exception and for the next half hour continually harassed the falcon. The birds never appeared to actually clash and there were no feathers flying but the falcon was not going to leave and though it gave way to the goshawk it continued to try and hunt the sparrows and finches. The falcon appeared to be also a juvenile and it was interesting to have the Lanner and Red-necked in close proximity and observe the differences.
The memory card now demanded I return to camp and download. My norm would be download, lunch and then siesta, but maybe it was still the adrenaline from the morning that kept me active. Bird-guide James to the fore again. He had told me where to look for the Pearly and White-faced Scops Owl and that the Bateleurs tended to drink at CubitjeQuap early to mid-afternoon. It was overcast so light conditions were as good as would be available midday. I found the Pearly in the camp-site and the Scops Owls were just outside camp. The Spotted Eagle Owl was adjacent to the “hill Look-out” so I had good views of all the owls I wanted.
True to James’s word, an adult Bateleur was drinking at CubitjeQuap when I arrived. As opposed the sparrows, finches, doves and sandgrouse, drinking for raptors is a leisurely affair so the birds were present for nearly an hour. The books say Bateleurs are normally silent but the adult here gave 3 separate barking calls, throwing the head back while doing so. This was the signal for the juveniles to arrive. What a pleasure to watch these magnificent eagles at close quarters. I had to pull my 100-400 lens back to 150 to capture the arrivals and take-offs. Simply stunning.
Things had to slow down. The storm clouds closed in, thunder and lightning, wonderful and frightening, and a good downpour of rain. I sat through the storm at CubitjeQuap and as so often happens, the clouds dispersed to be replaced by the Kgalagadi golden hour late afternoon light. The Dwarf Bittern posed beautifully in this light and the only other activity was a Kalahari Scrub-Robin who seemed to take the rain as a sign for breeding and was busy collecting nesting material.
On the way back to camp, the termites were already out. A pale Chanting Goshawk simply sat in a dead tree gorging itself. The sky over the river-beds was soon filled with hawking raptors. I tried to make a case for Red-legged Falcons and Lesser Kestrels but decided they were all more likely Amur Falcons in their varying male, female and juvenile guises. The Kgalagadi seems to out of range for all these birds but there had been rain around and assume they were following the termite irruptions. He last bird I identified and photographed was a perched Greater Kestrel.
What a day. I hope I will be blessed with sufficient health and the good fortune to experience similar type days anywhere in Africa, with those days I have left, a great many of which will be spent birding.