Monday, 30 November 2015

Trogons Bird Club away-outing - Albert Falls 15-20 November 2015

Places visited: Bisley Valley NR, Darvill Ponds, Karkloof Conservancy, Cumberland NR, Emgeni Valley Conservancy

Attendees:   Vic & Kay Nielson, Barry Willis & Sue Hansbury, Richard & Margaret , Doug & Angie Butcher, Ron & Elaine Whitam, Stan & Val Culley, Stanley & Asothie Gengan, Margaret Jones, Irma Schmook, Sandy Olver, Hazel Nevin, Bob & Hazel van Rooyen

Total bird count: 181 species (see end)
Breakdown: Albert Falls: 90;  Bisley Valley 44; Darvil Ponds 41;  Karkloof Conservancy 37;  Karkloof area 28;  Cumberland Nature Reserve 87;  Umgeni Valley Nature Reserve 55, Midmar Dam 50.

Text: Hazel van Rooyen;  Photos: Stan Culley, Doug Butcher, Hazel van Rooyen

Albert Falls (Doug Butcher)

Albert Falls Chalets (Hazel van Rooyen)

Albert Falls Dam (Doug Butcher)
Angie, Margaret & Irma at Albert Falls (Doug Butcher)

On arriving at Albert Falls on Sunday the wind was already blowing a gale and this set the mood for most of the week.  The dam was only 45% full and decreasing daily so rain was really needed there, as with the rest of the country.  We were greeted by hundreds, if not thousands, of Barn Swallows swooping about, with Greater and Lesser-striped Swallows and Brown-throated Martins joining in the fun.  Yellow-billed Kites seem to love spending their summer next to the Albert Falls Dam where they “hang out” in flocks of up to 20. Hardy folk as we thought we were, we erected our chairs in the wind under the lapa for lunch but soon dispersed to unpack in the warmth of our lovely rondavels.  By late afternoon the rain had set in properly so no birding was possible and supper was eaten in our rooms.

Yellow-billed Kites (Hazel van Rooyen)

Yellow-billed Kite (Hazel van Rooyen)

This trip was definitely dominated by the monotonous calls of the Black and Red-chested Cuckoos - they were everywhere, especially outside our bedrooms at 04.30 in the mornings!  Having said that, they were not easy to spot and I would not like to be one of their chosen brood hosts.  

Black Cuckoo (Hazel van Rooyen)

Monday morning we made a 06:30 start to get to Bisley Valley early but were thwarted by the rush-hour traffic getting through Pietermaritzburg which we retirees had forgotten all about.  Once there we found the gate padlocked and it wasn’t possible to drive in to picnic, but there was a turnstile which we used (guarded by a Rhombic Night Adder which Hazel Nevin surprised).

Rhombic Night Adder (Hazel Nevin)

Scimitarbill (Stan Culley)

We meandered our way through the bone-dry bushveld where Stan spotted a Scimitarbill.  Down at the bird-hide by the pond a veritable Cathedral of Bishops were swizzling away.  Some other birds at this hide were Common Moorhen, Thick-billed Weaver, Collared and White-bellied Sunbirds, Little Grebe, Black Crake, White-faced Duck and Giant Kingfisher.  In the surrounding scrub were Black-backed Puffback, Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Neddicky, Rufous-naped Lark and a flash of Orange-breasted Waxbills entertained us on the path back to the cars for coffee. 

Neddicky (Stan Culley)
Orange-breasted Waxbill (Hazel van Rooyen)
"A Cathedral of Bishops" (Hazel van Rooyen)

Breakfast outside Bisley (Doug Butcher)

The ponds at Darvill were next on the itinerary and a reasonable count of 41 birds were seen, including Crowned Crane,  Barn Swallow, Blacksmith Lapwing, Wood Sandpiper, Little Rush Warbler, Lesser Swamp Warbler, Ruff, African Jacana, Purple Swamphen, Yellow-billed Duck, Red-billed Teal, Hottentot Teal, Squacco Heron, Southern Pochard and the ever-present Levaillant’s Cisticola.

Little Rush Warbler (Hazel van Rooyen)

In the afternoon some of us went down to the campsite to look for waders at the water’s edge.  A pair of Crowned Cranes and some Woolly-necked Storks foraged a short way off, otherwise all was quiet.  Also seen earlier in the day were Amethyst Sunbird, Long-billed Crombec, African Hoopoe, Black Cuckoo and African Fish Eagle.  The guys battled to keep the braai-fire alight in the evening because of the wind but still managed to produce an excellent meal.  As you can see from Sandy's photographs, it was quite chilly.


Long-crested Eagle (Hazel van Rooyen)

Wattled Cranes (Doug Butcher)

On Tuesday a few of us again set off early for Karkloof Conservancy, spotting a Long-crested Eagle on our way.  The first dam provided good birding with, amongst others, White-throated Swallow, Blacksmith Lapwing, Grey Heron, Wattled Lapwing, South African Shelduck, Fan-tailed Widowbird, 3-banded Plover, African Spoonbill and some late-comers were lucky enough to see Wattled Cranes fly in.  The second hide was devoid of birds, the dam being totally dry and covered in reeds.  The only activity was a family of Reedbuck and the ubiquitous Pin-tailed Whydah.  Pausing at various places in the general Karkloof area yielded Cape Robin-Chat, Western Osprey, Bald Ibis, Crowned Crane and Buff-streaked Chat.

Kurrichane Thrush (Hazel van Rooyen)

White-browed Scrub Robin (Hazel van Rooyen)

Back at Albert Falls we added White-bellied Sunbird, Kurrichane Thrush, White-browed Scrub Robin and Black-collared Barbet to our base list.  Afternoon thunderstorms turned into a balmy summer evening at last and everyone emerged from their rondavels, sniffing the air like meerkats after a storm.  A delicious braai was being enjoyed  when suddenly what can only be described as a violent squall hit us, turning tablecloths into sails while we held on to our wine glasses and plates.  OAPs scattered and shot back into their bolt-holes and didn’t emerge again till the following morning.

Relaxing for once at the boma (Doug Butcher)

Where did this come from! (Doug Butcher)

Cumberland Nature Reserve on the Umgeni River in the Table Mountain area was our venue for Wednesday and our party of eight made tracks in that direction, to be joined a bit later by several more.  This proved everyone’s favourite of the trip. The bird count of 87 was double that of some other venues.  Several lovely walks were well mapped, information was available at the “honesty” entry hut, the picnic sites were well-kept and the owner even came to greet us and put together a large picnic table for us.

Picnic beneath the Paperbark trees (Hazel van Rooyen
More picnic (Doug Butcher)

Later we were shown around the accommodation.  The picnic spot was shaded by paperbark trees and skirted by thick indigenous forest and a few of the birds we saw here were Burchell’s Coucal, Kurrichane Thrush, Black Cuckoo,  Green-backed Cameroptera.  Moving further in, we parked at the camp ground and took the walk marked The Kranz which led along the top of the gorge . This was a bit rocky in places some stones still holding water from the previous night’s thunderstorm which had also brought out the flying ants.  On sighting an African Hoopoe resting on the branch of a tree instead of busily digging for grubs, Sandy commented that it was still licking its lips from the bounty of flying ants.  

Caught having a rest - actually watching a Fish Eagle on its nest (Hazel van Rooyen)
Peregrine Falcon (Stan Culley)

Peregrine Falcon (Hazel van Rooyen)

This was such a beautiful walk and proved marvelous for birds, some of the most exciting being African Harrier Hawk, Peregrine  and Lanner Falcons, African Fish Eagle (on nest), Trumpeter Hornbill, Violet-backed Starling, Cape Rock Thrush, Wahlberg’s Eagle, Red-throated Wryneck,  Golden-breasted Bunting, Southern Black Flycatcher,  Neddicky and what has to be our club favourite, -the Narina Trogon which eluded many of us until it alighted on the side of the gorge in all it’s amazing glory.  We all cheered when Angie finally got her Trogon.  Back at the picnic site for lunch, the birds soon regained our attention and the forest yielded Willow Warbler, Cape Batis, African Dusky Flycatcher, Cape White-eye,.  With the current drought conditions in our country, Cumberland Nature Reserve was a very soothing  lush green and we thoroughly enjoyed our visit.

Violet-backed Starling (Hazel van Rooyen)

Whilst most of us were at Cumberland, Barry and family went to Midmar Dam.  The North side was rather barren but the South side (entered by a different gate) produced Cape Crow, Cape Longclaw, Amethyst Sunbird, Red-throated Wryneck, Cape Robin-Chat, Golden-tailed Woodpecker, Wattled Lapwing, Black-winged Lapwing, Black-shouldered Kite, Rock Kestrel, Peregrine Falcon and Cape Grassbird.

Once again the weather was too unpleasant for a communal braai and we made supper in our rooms.

Our last day dawned a bit overcast and once again we split up, some returning to Cumberland Nature Reserve, but our group were keen to try another new place.  We set off via the sand road to Umgeni Valley Nature Reserve at Howick but Val didn’t trust the road condition and decided to go the longer route while we carried on.  The recent rain and forestry  vehicles had churned it up a bit but we carried on.  We felt sorry for all the little school children tip-toeing through the mud to get to school.  Umgeni Valley was very organized with a nice reception and a good map indicating trails of 2 to 5 hours.  WESSA (Wildlife & Environment Society of SA)  have offices there and do a lot of conservation and environmental education work.  One thing to note was that high clearance vehicles are essential, otherwise they won’t let you in.   Proceeding into the reserve we soon found a picnic spot with pine trees and had our usual morning coffee.  A raucous screeching brought all eyes upwards and a Lanner Falcon flew into a pine tree – and another, and another.  How exciting!  All together five, two adults and three juveniles.  We couldn’t see a nest but this seemed to be a regular spot for them as later in the day we saw them perform a food exchange in the air – very thrilling.

Lanner Falcon (Stan Culley)
Lanner Falcon (Hazel van Rooyen)

Howick Falls (Hazel van Rooyen)

View of Midmar Dam from Umgeni Valley Nature Reserve (Hazel van Rooyen)

Umgeni Valley Nature Reserve (Hazel van Rooyen)

A bit further along there were lovely views of Howick Falls which were flowing nicely after the recent storms and at the end of the road an amazing view of the beautiful valley with Midmar Dam in the distance.  Some Red-wing Starlings were having lots of fun bathing in a rock pool and a fatty dassie basked on the warm rock.  A Soldier Commodore butterfly attracted attention too.  Stanley went to have a closer look and almost got mobbed by White-necked Ravens which must have been nesting on the cliffs below.   

Soldier Commodore (Hazel van Rooyen

Fat little Dassie

Cape Rock Thrush (Hazel van Rooyen)

Cape Grassbird (Stan Culley)

White-necked Ravens took objection to Stanley's presence (Hazel van Rooyen)

On the way there we saw a Jackal Buzzard sitting on a fence and quite a few small birds in the grassland: Levaillant’s, Zitting and Wailing Cisticolas, Bronze Mannikin, Yellow-throated and Cape Longclaw, African Stonechat, Cape Rock Thrush, Mocking Cliff-Chat, Neddicky, Rock Martin, Cape Grassbird and Tawny-flanked Prinia.  Many little pathways led off to interesting-looking trails but most looked too steep for us youngsters, although we did venture a short way down.  There was quite a bit of other wild-life too, including zebra, blesbok with calf, and a mommy warthog with four little ones.
Cape Longclaw (Hazel van Rooyen)

Blesbox with calf (Hazel van Rooyen)

Warthog with piglets

Zitting Cisticola

Back at Albert Falls Angie and Doug went down to Pelican Bay and were lucky enough to see our beautiful National bird, a pair of Blue Cranes.

We finished our last day off with a braai, this time the weather held and we were able to relax in the boma and chat for a while.

So another fun and informative outing had come to an end and fond farewells were said as everyone went on their way.  We had enjoyed the venue, having waders, raptors and scrub-birds to be seen without even venturing out of the reserve.  For people with more general interests – giraffe, zebra, nyala, steenbok, warthog etc were abundant too.

Giraffe (Doug Butcher)

Nyala (Doug Butcher)

ALBERT FALLS 15-20 Nov 2015
Apalis Bar-throated
Barbet Black-collared
Barbet Crested
Batis Cape
Batis Chinspot
Bishop Southern Red
Boubou Southern
Brubru Brubru
Bulbul Dark-capped
Bunting Golden-breasted
Bush-shrike Gorgeous
Bush-shrike Olive
Bush-shrike Orange-breasted
Buzzard Jackal
Buzzard Steppe
Camaroptera Green-backed
Canary Yellow-fronted
Chat Buff-streaked
Chat Familiar
Cisticola Croaking
Cisticola Levaillant's
Cisticola Rattling
Cisticola Red-faced
Cisticola Wailing
Cisticola Zitting
Cliff-chat Mocking
Coot Red-knobbed
Cormorant Reed
Cormorant White-breasted
Coucal Burchell's
Crake Black
Crane Blue
Crane Grey Crowned
Crombec Long-billed
Crow Cape
Crow Pied
Cuckoo African Emerald
Cuckoo Black
Cuckoo Diderick
Cuckoo Klaas's
Cuckoo Red-chested
Darter African
Dove Laughing
Dove Red-eyed
Drongo Fork-tailed
Duck African Black
Duck White-faced
Duck Yellow-billed
Eagle African Crowned
Eagle Long-crested
Eagle Wahlberg's
Egret Cattle
Egret Little
Falcon Lanner
Falcon Peregrine
Fiscal Common (Southern)
Fish-eagle African
Flycatcher African Dusky
Flycatcher Fiscal
Flycatcher Southern Black
Flycatcher Spotted
Goose Egyptian
Goose Spur-winged
Grassbird Cape
Grebe Little
Greenbul Sombre
Guineafowl Helmeted
Hamerkop Hamerkop
Harrier-Hawk African
Heron Black-headed
Heron Goliath
Heron Grey
Heron Squacco
Honeyguide Greater
Honeyguide Lesser
Hoopoe African
Hornbill Trumpeter
Ibis African Sacred
Ibis Hadeda
Ibis Southern Bald
Jacana African
Kestrel Rock
Kingfisher Brown-hooded
Kingfisher Giant
Kingfisher Malachite
Kingfisher Pied
Kite Black-shouldered
Kite Yellow-billed
Lapwing African Wattled
Lapwing Blacksmith
Lapwing Black-wing
Lapwing Crowned
Lark Rufous-naped
Longclaw Cape
Longclaw Yellow-throated
Martin Brown-throated
Martin Rock
Moorhen Common
Mousebird Speckled
Myna Common
Neddicky Neddicky
Olive-pigeon African
Oriole Black-headed
Osprey Osprey
Ostrich Common
Oxpecker Red-billed
Palm-swift African
Paradise-flycatcher African
Petronia Yellow-throated
Plover Three-banded
Pochard Southern
Prinia Tawny-flanked
Puffback Black-backed
Quelea Red-billed
Raven White-necked
Robin-chat Cape
Robin-chat Red-capped
Rock-thrush Cape
Ruff Ruff
Rush-warbler Little
Sandpiper Common
Sandpiper Wood
Saw-wing Black (Southern race)
Scimitarbill Common
Scrub-robin White-browed
Seedeater Streaky-headed
Shelduck South African
Shoveler Cape
Sparrow Cape
Sparrow House
Sparrow Southern Grey-headed
Spoonbill African
Spurfowl Natal
Starling Black-bellied
Starling Cape Glossy
Starling Red-winged
Starling Violet-backed
Stilt Black-winged
Stonechat African
Stork White
Stork Woolly-necked
Sunbird Amethyst
Sunbird Collared
Sunbird White-bellied
Swallow Barn
Swallow Greater Striped
Swallow Lesser Striped
Swallow White-throated
Swamphen African Purple
Swamp-warbler Lesser
Swift African Black
Swift Little
Swift White-rumped
Tchagra Black-crowned
Teal Hottentot
Teal Red-billed
Thrush Kurrichane
Tinkerbird Red-fronted
Tit Southern Black
Trogon Narina
Turaco Purple-crested
Turtle-dove Cape
Wagtail Cape
Warbler Dark-capped Yellow
Warbler Willow
Waxbill Blue
Waxbill Common
Waxbill Orange-breasted
Weaver Cape
Weaver Spectacled
Weaver Thick-billed
Weaver Village
Weaver Yellow
White-eye Cape
Whydah Pin-tailed
Widowbird Fan-tailed
Widowbird Red-collared
Wood-hoopoe Green
Woodpecker Cardinal
Woodpecker Golden-tailed
Wryneck Red-throated
 181 species

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