Bird Valley Estate

Thursday 22 to Sunday 25 September 2016

Report by Paul and Sally Bartho


The campsite.. Numerous flat grassy stands with water and power. Ablutions – clean with hot water.

This was both a Week-end and Sunday outing.

It was attended by ten members for the weekend and a further eleven for the Sunday outing. And as usual it was a resounding success surpassing everyone’s expectations. Not only was the birding excellent but the venue and hospitality of Richard Alcock were equally so.

As noted on both previous visits this year (and reported on the website) this can be considered the “Okavango” of South Africa.

Peter and Frankie arrived Thursday afternoon as did Sally and I. It was a drizzly cold afternoon. Despite this we took a drive round the estate heading for the hide.

Bird Hide. The path to the hide extends behind the hide to the start of the forest.

On the way just before entering the forest over 30 White-backed Ducks took off from the water’s edge showing us why they got their name. A magnificent sight. It was so unusual to see so many together.

Then we drove through the woods to the 200 metre narrow grassy path through the marsh to the hide. Our mistake was not wearing our wellies as the path was through tall wet grasses.

View from the Bird Hide
View from the Bird Hide

The hide is located at the start of the 7 kms channel into the wetland. As expected we saw many waterbirds including African Pygmy-Geese and White-backed Ducks. Two Grey-crowned Cranes did a fly pass and a pair of Wattled Cranes were observed some distance away close to the forest.

The next morning we returned to the hide – this time suitably attired in Wellies and warm weather-proof clothing. Again we saw most of the birds we saw the evening before including the African Pygmy-Geese, White-backed Ducks and Wattled Cranes.

The excitement was observing an African Rail walking along the water’s edge on the far bank.

There was one little bird right next to us which we failed to ID – have a go.

That afternoon Cecil and Jenny arrived followed by Cheryl and John. Everyone lent a hand to set up their campsites.

While setting up we had a juvenile Black-headed Oriole serenading us from the trees above as a Village Weaver tried to distract us.

After setting up, we all left Cecil and Jenny to enjoy their consumptions as we headed for the lower side of the dam wall.

View from the Dam wall looking up towards the wetland area- extending to the base of the hills in the distance.
View from the Dam wall looking up towards the wetland area- extending to the base of the hills in the distance.

Richard has cut paths through the bush below the dam with several bridges crossing the fast flowing water from the dam. Totally different habitat and birds to be seen. Here are some of the birds we managed to photograph on that afternoon and on Sunday morning (while the Sunday outing members went on the boat trip).

It was fascinating to see how all the spider’s webs had collected dewdrops.


Friday night proved too cold and windy for a braai so we all ended up chin-wagging till late around Cecil and Jenny’s open tent area! However we did manage an early night as it was up early to depart on the Pontoon with Richard at 06h30! the next day.

If you desire to visit this wetland paradise then you need to contact Richard Alcock – see their website for details: You will need to come as a large group if you want to visit and be able to go up into the wetland area by boat.

Saturday morning we were all ready on time. The water was flat and we watched the fish jumping for the flies and the otters chasing behind. This was a treat we experienced each morning.

We also had two members from the Midlands Bird Club (Ian Gordon and Barry Taylor) join us. They had been on a similar outing with their members the week before and got a glimpse of what they thought might be a Striped Crake – the underside of the tail looked rufous.

Our hopes were high but expectations muted. The day still and sunny.

There were 10 of us and Richard as captain. Off we set towards the dam wall for a quick look round before heading up into the wetland area.

Our first surprise were a pair of African Black Ducks at the overflow of the dam.

As we headed north towards the wetland area there were large groups of African Pygmy-Geese and White-backed Ducks.

Just before we entered the channels there was this sighting of an African Darter which had us confused as to on what it was perched.

And then as we passed the Bird Hide we headed into the narrow channels going upstream towards the distant hills.

Onward we travelled with Richard imparting interesting information about the area and the formation of the channels. We eventually reached the area where the possible Striped Crake may have been. Barry disembarked and flushed the likely spots but unfortunately to no avail. Then we headed back.

On return Cecily and Mark arrived and setup their roof-top tent. Mark then proceeded to get out his fishing rod and headed to where the pontoon was tied up. Out he cast -no luck; try again – out he cast and lo and behold he brings in a huge bass which when weighed was recognised as the largest caught in the dam at a whopping 3.8 kgs. and which he generously donated to local staff.

Mark and his record breaking Bass
Mark and his record breaking Bass

Saturday evening was braai night. And then another gathering for more tales of past adventures which got more exaggerated as the evening wore on and the imbibing increased.

Sunday arrives – another glorious day – the water still and the otters playing. The Sunday outing members started arriving at 06h30 for the 07h30 start. Hennie and Decklan the first to arrive and then a little later Ann and Andy, followed by Dave and Penny then Sandi, Elena and Prem and finally Penny and Cheryl.

Decklan was quick to spot Mark fishing and joined him catching a fish in no time.

Then it was time for the Sunday outing members to depart. Richard the captain of course.

Everyone returned astonished at how good an experience they had had with Richard. Everyone wants to return and make this a regular outing. They had seen Black-backed Jackal, Reed Buck and 6 Otters – both on land and in the water – apart from the abundance of White-backed Ducks and African Pygmy-Geese. Apart from these, their sightings of the day included an African Snipe circling overhead and a pair of African Fish-Eagles trying to disperse their young.

On return everyone gathered to take in their experience and to invest in something to eat and drink before taking a walk below the dam wall, meanwhile those of us who came to make a weekend of it stayed behind to de-camp.

Some of the birds seen on their walk include:

And finally we got together to tally the birds identified for the weekend. In total there were 104 different species – click here to see the list. And we had added another 17 to the total list for Bird Valley Estate. Click here to see the Bird Valley list.

This is a very special place and a birding experience not to be missed. Get a group together, contact Richard ( see details earlier) and plan a visit.

Paul and Sally Bartho

Photos by Paul or Sally Bartho unless otherwise stated in the captions.

Kamberg Nature Reserve

Report by Paul and Sally Bartho

8th t0 9th September 2016

Only one night was spent in Kamberg Nature reserve on the way to family in the Berg.

Fortunately the weather was clear but cool when we arrived until we left – although we had an entertaining evening of wind and fire.

Anyway we were grandly welcome by the birds. These photos show the first five birds we saw.

On arrival we had noticed a smell of fire and we could see the smoke rising from the top of the distant hills. The wind was obviously blowing our way.

Sitting with our sundowners enjoying the peacefulness, the smoke we had seen now changed into fire. We could see the flames creeping down the mountainside towards us. Nervously the camp manager was called and she told us there were adequate fire breaks surrounding us.

On going to sleep the fires kept getting closer and the smell of smoke not quite choking – brought to us on the wings of a rather strong wind. Sleep eventually fell upon us and when we awoke all was quiet and the smoke had gone. Looking out the window we could see the burnt area miles away from us!

The morning was spent birding around the camp and staff areas. In total we identified 39 different species – click here to view our list.

Garden birds were calling all around us with Bokmakierie playing a variety of calls.

Several things were striking. The first was the numbers of Buff-streaked Chats – they seemed to be everywhere.

A large family of Ground Woodpeckers kept us entertained as they came out to sunbathe in the warmth of day.ground-woodpeckers

A Red-throated Wryneck called all morning long moving from one clump of tall trees to the next and evading our binoculars. Eventually we found it in a distant bare tree.

Red-throated Wryneck

Cape Vultures circled overhead

Unusually a Secretarybird flew above us. We are used to seeing them on the ground so this was a treat.

And a Rufous-chested Sparrowhawk did a fly-by.

Then we seemed to save the best for last. Having settled in at Kamberg Valley Hideaway Sally’s son and girlfriend, we took a drive towards the Hlatikulu Crane Sanctuary and Giant’s castle.

We almost turned back as the temperature was dropping and the wind was up. However just past the turnoff to the Crane sanctuary there are two large lakes on the same side of the road. As we approached we wondered if we would see any Cranes. Were we in for a surprise – 30 Wattled Cranes and 2 Grey Crowned Cranes in the first field between the lakes and another 40 Grey-crowned Cranes in the field on the far side. Thankfully we had our scope with us to get a good count.

A very rewarding 24 hours.

Paul and sally Bartho

Tanglewood Farm Nature Reserve

Saturday Outing to Tanglewood Farm NR

3 September 2016

We had an excellent turnout – the weather could have been a bit better but the cool/slightly overcast sky made walking very pleasant.

Our bird count was in the region of 84 – we had a few mysterious raptors and there was much debate whether the one was an early returning cuckoo or a sparrowhawk.  Unfortunately no photos to help with ID. Click here to see a list of the birds recorded as identified.

The walk through the forested Kloof area yielded up a good number of birds, Purple-crested and Knysna Turacos, Dusky Flycatchers on every second tree and the one group were lucky enough to hear (and see?) Green Twinspots also Narina Trogon  were heard.

Also heard was the Crowned Eagle but then the consensus was possibly a Red-capped Robin Chat!!

Our Weaver count was excellent; Dark-backed, Spectacled, Yellow and Cape building nests by the boathouse dam, Thick-billed and of course the ubiquitous Village.

Sunbirds were not too shabby either; Amethyst, Collared, Olive and Greater-double collared.

Some of the birds seen and heard included: Black-headed Oriole, Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Forest Canary, Black-collared, Crested and White-eared Barbets, Southern Boubou, lots of doves – Red-eyed, Emerald Spotted, Tambourine, Rock and Lemon, African Olive Pigeon (Caryl said they roost on top of the house) Common Fiscal, Black-backed Puffback, African Firefinch, Olive Thrush, Southern Black Tit, Olive Bushshrike, a couple of specials – Buff-spotted Flufftail (calling) and Grey Waxbill.

The walk through the grasslands yielded Cape Grassbirds, Croaking Cisticolas, Neddickys, Yellow-throated Longclaws, with Lesser Striped Swallows, Palm Swifts and Black Saw-wings swooping over the dams.

Plenty of wild flowers and butterflies produced some really great photos.

We finished off the morning having our picnic tea at the boathouse – watching the weavers building nests.

Relaxed Birders
Relaxed Birders

The Shetland pony came down to munch the fresh green grass around the dam, the Hadedas delving into the soft earth for tasty morsels, Woolly-necked Storks flying overhead, Reed Cormorants sitting in the dead tree, altogether a very pleasant place to be!

At one point someone on the deck saw this Reed Snake floating at the water’s edge below. “Look at the eyes” was the call, “But not much of a wiggle” said another.

Reed Snake - PB
Reed Snake – PB

At one stage we stopped off at the house to see the Trumpeter Hornbill chick that Caryl and her son rescued. At the moment it lives in a make-shift enclosure and is making a wonderful recovery. It shares the enclosure with an Angora rabbit (also found in the nature reserve) and they seem to be the best of friends.

We had a ‘silver’ collection and R300 was collected! which will go to the Hillcrest conservancy. Many thanks to Caryl for allowing us to visit and have such a great ‘birding’ day.


Elena Russell