Sunday, 29 January 2012

Rain stops play

Headed out on the bike early afternoon - first stop at the old fire station along the Horton Burn. Lots of activity with blue, great, coal and long-tailed tit, many blackbird, chaffinch and a sole bullfinch. More of a surprise was a pair of stock dove - not seen them down this end before. Cycling back along the burn 1 kingfisher and 1 grey wagtail flushed, while at the west end a nice flock of bullfinch, 10, we're in the vicinity of the Crowhall Lane roundabout. My arrival at West Hartford was in conjunction with rain, so birding was cut short as my binoculars became waterlogged to the point of not being able to see anymore! Nevertheless a single short-eared owl, c40 teal, bhg, cg, hg and c50 lapwing were noted (though none of the 10 golden plover which had been seen from home a while earlier in the mobile lapwing flock). Time not on my side for any more birding this weekend, hopefully I'll be able to get out during the week after work - the bewick's swans are appealing up the coast and I wouldn't mind a crack at the tundra bean geese flock...

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Backlit Iceland

A lovely sunny morning despite feeling under the weather myself. Met Mark mid morning at North Shields Fish Quay and soon were watching the near adult iceland gull. Always good to see but tricky to get an angle on it that wasn't directly into the light as it flew over the river.

Might have to give this another go sometime...

Friday, 27 January 2012

Clear out

A few "nearly" pics, round off the South Africa nostalgia. Cold weather birding re-commences tomorrow!

Blue crane

African black oystercatcher - a European has been present here lately! 

Cardinal woodpecker - one of three

Pin-tailed whydah - whydah run away so fast?!!

African hoopoe

Yellow canary - really yellow!

Cape bulbul

Grey-backed cisticola - cape bunting did not perform as well

Planning a birding trip to South Africa? I'd recommend...

Birding Africa

Reminder of trip report - HERE

African Penguin, Betty's Bay

Back in 2009 we visited Boulders Beach to take a look at the African penguin colony - this time it was the turn of the only other mainland nest site, Stony Point.

Needless to say the penguins have much appeal, and the varying states of moult provide much "oohs" and "aahs" from birder and non birder alike.

Check out how much fatter the youngsters are compared to the adults!

Keeping feet cool in the rock pool!

Piles of moulted downy feathers...

Security was tight with this Rock Hyrax on guard at the ticket office!

Birding at the site was good - bank, crowned, cape and white-breasted cormorant, grey heron, hartlaub's gull, cape gannet, swift tern, speckled mousebird, cape wagtail and black oystercatcher were all noted.

Not a leg to stand on...

A Cape legless skink came to a sticky end when this hadeda ibis picked it up out off the roadside verge... Eagle-eyed Alister did a quick turn round for us to get a better view from the car.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Cape Sugarbird

First up - a link to the much better trip report prepared by our guide Alistair Kilpin - thanks to Birding Africa for the link - TRIP REPORT


In complete contrast to the vocal but reclusive victorin's warbler we were treated to point blank views of cape sugarbird - a species I had only briefly seen in the past (from a moving car in 2010!).

This bird was fearless and fed boldly a few feet from where we stood... It was great to finally get to photograph a bird without heat haze and at a reasonable distance for the 100-400mm!!!

This sugarbird was further along the coast at Rooi Els - cracking!

Victorin's victory (almost!)

Soon after the jackal buzzard my keen eyed better half picked up a Cape rock thrush perched on the roadside telegraph wires. Since it was my first Alistair kindly turned the car back round so that we could have a better look.

Stepping out of the car we had the good fortune to hear another victorin's warbler singing! Given the brief views earlier in the day we did not expect much in terms of viewing, but it's fair to say that we did do better - initial views of foliage shaking put us onto where the warbler was, and after a little while we got a few fleeting views. They sat patience is a virtue, and thanks to the presence of a few Cape rock thrush (consuming the biggest critters I've seen!), an African reed warbler and some orange breasted sunbirds, we held out and were rewarded with better binocular views of the bird singing within the vegetation. Photographically a "challenge" to say the least!...

Hots > xcounty > coast...

Leaving the upland areas of the Hottentots Holland we proceeded to travel through the farmlands enroute to the coastal region of Bettys Bay and surrounds. The birding continued with good fortune throughout the journey... an unplanned stop to check out some white-rumped swift resulted in a spotted flycatcher (!) ~ uncommon in the region.

Large-billed lark

No luck with black eagle, but rather nice compensation in the form of a...

Black sparrowhawk - a family of blue crane fed in the distant fields
 A small wooded valley produced roadside cape batis, sombre greenbul and a pair of African black duck.

Cape batis

Sombre greenbul
 Reaching the coast a roadside jackal buzzard remained in position as I grabbed a couple of shots from the car -

Jackal buzzard

A little bit further on and the action got better...

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Hottentots Jumper

Orange-breasted sunbird
Day 2 of the guided birding took us into the hills and farmland in the Hottentot Hollands vicinity. It was another superb day with a complimentary set of bird species added to the trip list. First port of call was Sir Lowry's Pass ~ it was a cooler, greyer start than the pervious day, but proved ideal for birding. Cape grassbird was quickley picked up and the area was full of the magnificent orange breasted sunbirds. The main quarry, victorin's warbler was singing pretty much consistantly during our visit, but seeing one prove tricky - two birds were seen fleetingly, while a minimum of 4 were heard. We'd have better luck later...
Cape rockjumper - stunning!
Further on the amazing Cape rockjumper was added to the list, with great views of a family party moving through the rocky terrain. Hamerkop had been an unexpected bonus on our drive up, while Cape siskin prove to be abundant, along with a good size flock of yellow bishop.

Southern double collared sunbird
Back at the car a bird wave passed through the surrounding trees - malachite and amethyst sunbird were welcome, along with cape sugarbird, swee waxbill, fiscal flycatcher and fork-tailed drongo!
Yellow bishop

Malachite sunbird
Some refreshment with coffee and "Normas" cake followed and it was back to the road for the farmland and coastal stretch...

Fork-tailed drongo

Fiscal flycatcher

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

South Africa - birdy pics and a few words...

It's tricky to select images for use on the blog - photographs of some of the better South African species have suffered to the heat haze, so a random selection will be posted rather than a chronological sequence.

Juv common fiscal, Franschhoek
 Our first four days in Franschhoek were based on a delightful vineyard - birding was restricted to species seen while out on the bike, so no camera was carried. The common fiscal was outside our residence on a very hot afternoon and allowed sufficient approach for the 100-400mm lens.The adults are cracking in comparison - jet black and pristine white plumage!

Black-shouldered kite, north of Cape Town
 Fast forward to Cape Town, out home for the last 4 days. Day 2 and 3 were spent with Birding Africa. Our guide, Alistair Kilpin was superb! Just north of Cape Town we pulled over off the highway to scan a small pool - it was full of birds! Two black-shouldered kite were perched in a dead tree - lush is the only way I can think to describe them! We also enjoyed bokmakerie, hottentot teal, marsh sandpiper, purple heron, yellow bishop, our first of many white-backed mousebird to name a few - it was avian overload!

Yellow-billed kite, Geelbek, West Coast National Park
 After great stops for secretarybird and the Darling track (blue crane, capped wheatear, red-capped lark, african stonechat, and our main quarry - 3 vocal and active southern black korhaan) and some wetland viewing at Velddrift (greater and lesser flamingo, caspian tern, pied kingfisher, thick-billed lark, waders galore) we hit West Coast National Park.

WCNP is beautiful... and views of the lagoon at Langbaan were picture postcard perfect - azure waters and pure white sands. Stops along the road were productive - two female southern black korhaan just avoided the camera as they lifted off the road and karoo scrub robin entertained.

Birding the lagoon wasn't bad either! 5 damara tern were roosting with the plentiful common and sandwich, while white-fronted and kittlitz plover scuttled in front of the hide.

Late lunch was at Geelbeck, and jolly good it was too - hake and calamari hit the spot, while cape weaver, yellow bishop, cape spurfowl and a brief male pin-tailed whydah entertained between and on the dinner tables!

Cape weaver, Geelbek, West Coast National Park
 No sign of any black harrier on our visit, the only "miss" of the day. Compensation was in the form of a plethora of new birds for me, so I cannot grumble! The water hole at Abrahamskraal was very good - I missed photographing a close black crake (there were several on the far shore), while cape bulbul, yellow canary african sacred ibis, african spoonbill, lesser swamp warbler kept us busy.

Our exit from the park included a flyby European bee-eater and many ostrich.

Red-knobbed coot, Abrahamskraal water hole, West Coast National Park
Our day completed almost 11 hours after the hotel pick-up, 110 species richer for the holiday. Fresh air had knocked us for six and it was a jolly good nights sleep...

Monday, 23 January 2012


One of the highlights of the recent trip, but probably one of the worst photographs! Taken from the roadside (R27) heading north enroute to Velddrif.

Intense temperatures mean't that anything more than a few meters away was is in strong heat haze. Secretarybird is tricky in the western Cape area, with the species range retracting.

Adds to the "atmosphere"?

Better pictures to follow of other species...

Sunday, 22 January 2012


Waiting in Heathrow using British Airways wi-fi (they should change their lounge password more often!)

I'm about as happy as the rock hyrax to be back in cold blighty, with work tomorrow...

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Hot in Hottentots

Day 2 with Birding Africa was, again, amazing...

Some smashing endemics and great company with guide Alistair and pal Gavin.

Birdy data and pics to follow when back in UK!

Friday, 20 January 2012

View from the west...

An amazing day with the guidance of Birding Africa - up from Cape Town to West Coast National Park. Some really good species seen (c113) - secretarybird being an unexpected highlight - more to follow later...

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Transit day

Moved back to the coast today after a very nice four night stay at Franschhoek.

Not too many birds seen on the drive - cape francolin was new for the trip. The afternoon in Cape Town was mainly spent indoors - in a shopping centre then in the hotel (changing rooms as the air conditioning had failed!) birdwise it was the obvious species that were ticked off hartlaubs gull, cape gull and bank cormorant etc.

Much much more tomorrow...

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Tuesdays tweets from the road

A better day for activity, with temperatures back in the low 30s. Bikes commandeered again late morning and off we ambled.

The ride was not as strenuous as the last and we managed to pass a couple of irrigation pools for the vineyards. These seem to act as magnets in these parts as they provided a number of new holiday (and some life) birds. So the highlights - African black duck, yellow billed duck, hottentot teal, swee waxbill, giant kingfisher (huge!), fork tailed drongo, pearl breasted swallow and brimstone canary (all "ticks"), plus seven magnificent blue crane, black headed heron, reed cormorant etc.

All good value, with (hot) fresh air to boot.

It's back to the coast tomorrow and a couple of busy birding days planned.

As a postscript to yesterday's post, just as I'd finished writing and uploading we had a remarkable close fly past of an African harrier hawk - an astoundingly groovy bop!

Monday, 16 January 2012

Monday meltdown

It's been a very lazy day, with temperatures here hitting 40 degrees Celsius. We opted to stay in the hotel grounds, with the better half content with the kindle, and me with Marks' on loan scope - and a great bit of kit it is too.

Birdwise it's been quiet, but I've enjoyed a couple of new species - forest buzzard and horus swift, plus good looks at the standard village fare - alpine and African black swift, greater striped swallow, jackal buzzard, fiscal shrike, red winged starling, pied crow, cape bulbul, cape white eye, cape weaver, black headed heron etc.

With any luck the temperature will drop a little so we can get back out on the bikes tomorrow before heading back to Cape Town on Wednesday.