Sunday, 11 March 2018

Outing report: Shongweni Dam - 11 March 2018

Attendees:  Barrie Willis & Sue Hansbury, Stan & Val Culley, Bob & Hazel van Rooyen, Jonathan Davidson

Species identified: 34                                                     Text & Photographs: Hazel van Rooyen
White-backed Night Heron

The weather forecast for Sunday 11 March had been doubtful all week and secretly we all thought we must be mad to venture such a distance.  And it was a ridiculously early start to get to Shongweni by 7am but we made it with 15 minutes to spare.  A quick coffee was gulped down whilst waiting for the office to open at 7am – and waiting and waiting.  No sign of life emerged so we proceeded into the reserve. The 1700ha reserve includes the dam, tall cliffs, riverine bush and valley bushveld – it looked promising.  We took a slow drive to the bottom of the dam wall, on the way identifying the calls of Crested and Black-collared Barbets.  A pair of White-necked Ravens guarded the dam wall.  
Breakfast in a Grassy spot

Stan identifying swallows

We spent some time in this green and grassy spot and Stan confirmed that the numerous show of hirondines swooping all around were Black Swift, White-rumped Swift, Rock Martin, Palm Swift and Lesser-striped Swallow.  Several Pied Wagtails fluttered about, picking at tidbits washing over the dam wall and strutting about like knights on the turrets.  Speckled Pigeons, Red-wing Starling and a White-breasted Cormorant also fancied the vantage point provided by the lofty buttresses.
Following the river bank, Brown-hooded Kingfisher and Tambourine Doves were heard and Bob flushed a Jackal Buzzard from its perch in a tree.  A Giant Kingfisher flashed down the river, skilfully avoiding the tumbling waters, while an African Fish Eagle sat in the tree-tops viewing its domain. 
African Fish Eagle
Purple-crested Turacos continually called to each other and a Red-fronted Tinkerbird pop-pop-popped incessantly.

This looked a good place for breakfast so we tucked in hungrily – it had been an early start.  Various raptors played in the thermals along the cliff edge opposite, too far away for identification.  From a rock in the middle of the stream a Hamerkop kept watch for frogs and fishy things being washed over the waterfall. 
Bob’s sharp eyes picked up a pretty Malachite Kingfisher waiting at the river’s edge on the far bank.  A clump of water hyacinth waited for its turn to be washed down in the whirls and eddies to spread its tentacles and suffocate the pretty river – a sign that all was not entirely well on the Shongweni Dam.
Malachite Kingfisher (water hyacinth in background)

I was changing the card in my camera – typical bad timing – when everyone became very animated.  A White-backed Night Heron had flown into the middle of a leafy tree!  Not the best position for photography but by walking round to get a better view we got a decent photo.  Barrie and Sue were the “delighted-est” of us all – having searched for this bird for over 20 years.  With no alcohol in sight to celebrate, promises were made of a brandy or two on getting back home.
White-backed Night Heron
White-backed Night Heron (the back shows white in flight)
After all this excitement, we drove around the dam to inspect the lay of the land and the safari tents on the opposite side.  These looked quite presentable from the outside at least.  The only birds on the dam were a pair of Yellow-billed Ducks and an Egyptian Goose family with eight fluffy ducklings – ah!  There was a walking trail signposted from the canoe club but it was getting too hot and humid for us faint-hearted folk. The area was also very busy with weekenders picnicking and canoeing so we decided to return to our peaceful spot beneath the dam wall where we relaxed and enjoyed our braai, adding Crowned Eagle and Golden-tailed Woodpecker to our list.  
Mlazi River

Mlazi River

Species identified:

Barbet, Black-collared
Barbet, Crested
Bulbul, Dark-capped
Buzzard, Jackal
Cormorant, White-breasted
Dove, Red-eyed
Dove, Tamborine
Duck, Yellow-billed
Eagle, African Fish-
Eagle, Crowned
Goose, Egyptian  
Greenbul, Sombre
Heron, White-backed Night
Hornbill, Crowned
Ibis, Hadeda
Kingfisher, Brown-hooded

Kingfisher, Giant
Kingfisher, Malachite
Kite, Yellow-billed
Martin, Rock
Pigeon, Speckled
Prinia, Tawny-flanked
Raven, White-necked
Starling, Cape Glossy
Starling, red-winged
Swallow, Lesser-striped
Swift, Black
Swift, Palm
Swift, White-rumped
Tinkerbird, Red-fronted
Turaco, Purple-crested
Wagtail, Pied
Woodpecker, Golden-tailed


(Photographs property of photographer)

Friday, 2 March 2018

UPCOMING OUTING: Shongweni Dam & Game Reserve

Dear Members
Sunday 11 March at 07:00 BirdLife Trogons will visit Shongweni Dam and Game Reserve.  Bring chairs, breakfast and something to braai for lunch.  All Welcome. There is a R30 charge for pensioners and R40 for adults.  There is also a R20pp charge for non-members of BirdLife Trogons.  This is a new venue for the club.  From water to forest, cliff to grassland, thornveld and even palmveld, Shongweni Dam and Game Reserve varied range of habitats means it attracts more than 260 different bird species. Your patience could be rewarded by the elusive Narina trogon and bat-hawk. Scan the cliffs carefully for the masters of the skies - nesting black storks, martial, crowned and black eagle. Take a canoe onto the dam to glide past spurwing geese and glimpse white-backed night heron.
Outings may be cancelled due to weather, check or phone Hazel on 072 355 8837.  (Please note we cannot respond to text messages or "call me" requests.)
Directions:  Shongweni Dam and Game Reserve is situated between GPS coordinates: 29º51′S and 30º43′ E.
  • Follow the N3 through the Marianhill toll plaza, then take the Shongweni/Assagay offramp (exit 32)
  • At the top of the offramp, turn left and drive for about 1km
  • Turn left and proceed past Denny Mushrooms offices on your left for 600m
  • Turn right and drive for 6km driving through the sugarcane fields, pass through the village, until you reach the entrance gates.
Look forward to seeing you there!
Hazel van Rooyen  
BirdLife Trogons Bird Club

Sunday, 25 February 2018

Outing report: River Valley Nature Reserve, Uvongo - 25 February 2018

Attendees:  Barrie Willis & Sue Hansbury, Graham & Sue Salthouse, Doug, Angie & Andrew Butcher, Bob & Hazel van Rooyen

Species identified: 36                                               Text: Hazel van Rooyen

Thick-billed Weaver (photo: Hazel van Rooyen)

Yet another cloudy morning greeted us at River Valley but this was our second attempt in a few weeks to visit and although there were some cancellations, a few of us were determined to “get out there”.
Arriving a bit early, we parked by the small dam just before the entrance where a Pied Wagtail flew over to welcome us.  At the dam a Black-headed Heron stood frozen in concentration and in contrast a Black Crake put in a fleeting performance, flashing across our vision – blink and you would miss it.
Black-headed Heron (photo: Hazel van Rooyen)

Andrew Lewis, the owner, met us at the gate, very organised with a bird list and map of walking trails.  He explained the geography of the reserve and Barrie led us down a winding sand road to the river.  On route, a Jackal Buzzard flew overhead, investigating the usurpers of its hunting pastures.  Yellow-fronted Canaries chased each other in the tree-tops.
Vungu River (photo: Hazel van Rooyen)

Down by the lush little river, Green Wood-Hoopoes cackled as they bounced around in the branches while Crowned Hornbills clambered about in the tree canopy.  Southern Black Flycatchers swooped from the lower branches and pounced on their unsuspecting prey in the filtered light.  In the reed-beds Thick-billed Weavers were busy making their neat nests between two reeds and as mom dived into one, tiny squawks issued from within.
Following the Impithi trail through tussocky grassland, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbirds could be heard pop-pop-popping and a Klaas's Cuckoo sang meit-jie, meit-jie in the distance.   Yellow-throated Longclaws flapped and glided to their perches on the topmost twigs of shrubs. Those are seriously long claws!

Yellow-throated Longclaw (photo: Doug Butcher)

Locostylis alata (photo Hazel van Rooyen)

Locostylis alata (photo Hazel van Rooyen)

Amongst some rocky grassland a tree stood out with pinky-red blossoms.  Later research identified it as Loxostylis alata or Tarwood.  The female flowers are borne on separate trees from the male.  Both are small and a creamy-white but once the fruit starts forming the surrounding sepals expand rapidly and become bright pink to brick-red and the tree looks as though it is in flower.  Other horticultural stand-outs were clumps of Watsonia densiflora whose startlingly pink flowers lit up the grassland. 
Watsonia densiflora (photo Hazel van Rooyen)

A small bird caused some discussion as to what type of fly-catcher it could be but later on, showing our expert Stan the photos, he identified it as an immature Brown-backed Honeybird (an addition to the River Valley bird list).
Brown-backed Honeybird (photo Hazel van Rooyen)

The Culprits (photo Doug Butcher)
 Re-tracing our steps back to the picnic site for breakfast, we startled a pair of Yellow-billed Ducks which flew up river.  A Tambourine Dove called woohoo, woo tutu-tu-tu-tu .....and a Knysna Turaco crowed gruffly from the mid-canopy.  
Trumpeter Hornbill (photo Doug Butcher)
After a good breakfast next to the river, accompanied by the baby-like cries of Trumpeter Hornbills and Crowned Eagles, the Nyala trail took us in the other direction through some forest.  Out in the open once again, a rumour in the wind spoke of an imminent shower and after a while our party decided to turn back and head for shelter.  Along the way a chirpy little bird caught our attention and from its song we identified it as a Levaillant’s Cisticola.  By the time we got back the rain had stopped but soon started up again and we took refuge sitting on the long verandah.  The sharp shower dissipated and the guys decided to start the braai.  Whilst we were quietly relaxing we noticed a Bush Buck foraging half-way up the steep bank on the other side of the river.  Just then an African Fish Eagle called out which perfected the peaceful scene.
Bush buck (photo Hazel van Rooyen)
The people (photo Hazel van Rooyen)
The people  (photo Doug Butcher)
Thanks go to all participants for their knowledge-sharing and fun attitude.  Also thanks to Andrew Lewis, the owner and moral custodian, for providing such a lovely venue which was a delight - well-maintained and cared for.
Species identified: 36
Barbet, Black-collared
Bulbul, Dark-capped
Buzzard, Jackal
Canary, Yellow-fronted
Cisticola, Levaillant’s
Coucal, Burchell’s
Crake, Black
Cuckoo, Klaas’s
Dove, Red-eyed
Dove, Tamborine
Duck, Yellow-billed
Eagle, African Fish
Eagle, Crowned
Fiscal, Common
Flycatcher, Southern Black
Goose, Egyptian
Heron, Black-headed
Honeybird, Brown-backed

Hornbill, Crowned
Hornbill, Trumpeter
Kingfisher, Brown-hooded
Longclaw, Yellow-throated
Saw-wing, Black
Sparrow, Grey-headed
Starling, Glossy
Starling, Red-winged
Starling, Violet-backed
Swallow, Barn
Swallow, Lesser-striped
Tinkerbird, Yellow-rumped
Turaco, Knysna
Wagtail, Pied
Weaver, Cape
Weaver, Thick-billed
Widowbird, Fan-tailed
Wood-Hoopoe, Green