At about 8pm last night Anne and I heard a commotion on our patio and as I looked up I thought I saw what looked like a small Owl grab a little Gecko off the wall. I ran outside to have a look but it had disappeared. About 10 mins later it flew back so I grabbed my camera and slowly went onto the patio and there, sitting on the floor, was a Common Quail. It then jumped / flew about 6 ft into the air up against the wall, obviously trying to catch a gecko , but after having no luck in then wandered off into the garden.
The 3rd Sunday outing for November took place in the Midlands, kindly hosted by Crystelle Wilson at her charming country home on the Dargle road just outside Boston.
A group of 15 keen birders assembled at 8am with a welcoming mug of coffee with rusks for those that made the journey on the morning. Others had made it a birding weekend and overnighted in the area. Gum boots of all sorts, shapes and colours were kindly on offer for those without, and off we set for a gentle walk to the river with paths running through the wetland and along the Elands River.
A good number of birds were seen and heard including warblers (Little-rush, African Reed, and Dark-Capped Yellow Warbler), cisticolas (Levaillants), widows (Red-collared and Fan-tailed), weavers (Spectacled and Village), water birds (Yellow-billed Duck, Spur-winged Geese) and a few raptors (Steppe Buzzard, Black Sparrowhawk). Unfortunately the cranes were not on offer which will mean a return trip next year, but also seen were Cape Grassbird, Drakensberg Prinia, Southern Red Bishop, Common Waxbill and Giant Kingfisher.
Once out of the wetlands and back at the house, a few birds seen in the gardens surrounding the house included Cape Wagtail, Cape Canary, Amethyst Sunbird and a lovely pair of African Hoopoe.
Gum boots were soon discarded as next up on the agenda was a short drive to a farm further north for a spot of indigenous forest birding. Here we were treated to wonderful views of rolling farmlands, small dams and quaint cottages – the latter perfect for a week end away of quiet birding and fly-fishing away from the bustle of city life. A leisurely stroll through the indigenous forest yielded cracking views of Bush Blackcap, Bar-throated Apalis and Yellow-Throated Woodland-Warbler. A few other birds seen included Olive Thrush, Blue-Mantled Crested Flycatcher, African Paradise Flycatcher, Forest Canary and Jackal Buzzard. Not to be outdone by the birds, a pair of Common Duiker also put in a brief appearance.
Once done with the forest walk, we proceeded down to a second fishing cottage overlooking a small dam – picnic time and time to discuss events of the day. En route a few picked up Plain-backed Pipit, Yellow Bishop and Cape Robin-Chat. The final tally for the week end was approximately 70 species seen, to be confirmed by Crystelle once her atlas card has been submitted to the SABAP2 database.
A small band of seven enthusiastic birders headed out to the ponds below the Eston Sugar Mill on Sunday 10 November. That said I have yet to come across an apathetic birder! All the same, the lure was great photo opportunities of African Snipe (Gallinago nigripennis) emanating from a shot I had taken on a visit there the previous week end on a personal recce. As Murphy would have it, they were elusive to our group all day, despite Barry Swaddle sighting up to 8 birds on his wanderings around the ponds. Bumping into Barry and his friends was a blessing in disguise as he provided invaluable tips on being able to do a full loop around the wetlands without having to back track, as well as other places to visit in the general area. We parked our cars and proceeded along the eastern side and headed towards the dam wall. En route we picked up Wood Sandpiper, Ruff, Little Stint, Yellow-billed Duck and Hottentot Teal, along with the sounds of Burchell’s Coucal, Diderick Cuckoo and a plethora of Little-rush Warblers.
As we neared the dam wall we were treated to a fly past of a pair of Spotted Thick-knees who settled not far from us and gave good views – particularly rewarding as lifers for some. All the while we had distant views of three African Marsh-Harriers which we desperately tried to turn into Westerns, as well as trying to convince a few Wood Sandpipers to evolve to be of the Green variety! As we got to the end of the dam wall we observed a trio of Grey Crowned Cranes flyover close by and then settle in the shallow waters of the dam below among the Egyptian Geese. This was followed by a second trio of cranes, but this set included a single Wattled Crane (Bugeranus carunculatus). A truly privileged sighting for all of us, particularly so considering their listing as Critically Endangered in Southern Africa. Sadly, gloomy light hampered chances of getting decent photographs.
We proceeded along the western flanks of the ponds and were treated to brief views of a Common Cuckoo that flew out from cover of the reeds, landed briefly out in the open and then disappeared into the cane fields. Efforts to coax African Rail from within the reeds using playback only gave us a return call! Other good birds included Black-winged Stilt, Southern Pochard, Squacco Heron, African Purple Swamphen and Wahlberg’s Eagle. Nearing the upper ponds, we were treated to cracking views of six adult and two juvenile Black-crowned Night Herons (Nycticorax nycticorax).
A total of 61 species were recorded during the morning, with a full protocol card being submitted to the SABAP2 database – my first ever card!! We returned home with a detour to the Toyota Testing Centre as Barry had indicated prospects there were good for Penny to add Black-winged Lapwing to her life list –and right he was.
Well our trip to the Top End of Australia ended just over a week ago and we are still trying to assess what we have seen.
366 species have been recorded in the area – however quite a number are either vagrants or migrants which we had no chance to see. Realistically there were about 280 species we could have seen.
All in all we saw some 185 different species of which 49 were Australian lifers for Sally and 56 for me. Most of these lifers are only to be found in the north of Australia.
However the satisfying part for both of us was that we were able to get photos of most of the new birds we saw. In many instances the photos enabled us to identify or confirm our identification.
Rather than list the lifers we saw, the following gallery does the job for me. A few new birds escaped before the camera could get a shot in – the most disappointing being the Black-tailed Treecreeper, the Red-browed Pardalote, the Green-backed Gerygone and the Little Curlew.
That concludes our Darwin escapade. Hope you have enjoyed the read and photos.