Thursday, 28 January 2016

Sociable Weaver - Bird of the Year 2016


Sociable Weaver, Bird of the Year 2016
The Bird of the Year for 2016 is the Sociable Weaver

Sociable Weaver bringing nesting material (photograph: Stan Culley)

Sociable Weaver nest (photograph: Stan Culley)

The Sociable Weaver is an icon of southern Africa’s arid zones, and one of the drawcards that attracts visitors to the Kalahari. They are small birds with big personalities, and they have a complex and very interesting social life” BirdLife South Africa’s Chief Executive Officer Mark D. Anderson said. These birds, which weigh about 29 grams, build the world’s largest nest. Some nests, weighing more than 1000 kg, can have 500 inhabitants!

‘Bird of the Year’ is one of BirdLife South Africa’s initiatives to raise awareness about birds, bird conservation and the protection of bird habitats. Educating people is a key component of BirdLife South Africa’s conservation work, and therefore its marketing and education team develop Bird of the Year learning materials for schools. This year the resources will be about the Sociable Weaver, but also include information about other weavers, the arid zone, climate change, and other relevant matters.

“Although Sociable Weavers are not found throughout South Africa, many other weaver species are widespread. The learning materials which are being developed for schools and other groups will therefore being linked to weavers in general. Some aspects of these birds which are of interest are their intricate weaving skills and their diverse breeding systems,” said Nikki McCartney, Events and Marketing Manager at BirdLife South Africa.

One cannot travel to the Kalahari and surrounding arid areas without noticing these Sociable Weavers’ nests. “They are like giant haystacks placed in a tree or on a telephone pole”, said Anderson. The massive nests have several functions, but especially the buffering of the extreme temperatures in our region’s deserts and semi-desert areas. “The nest occupants include a range of other animals, from Pygmy Falcons and Red-headed Weavers to Cape Cobras, lizards and wasps”, Anderson added.

The Sociable Weaver’s range is increasing, especially as they build their nests on artificial structures, such as telephone and electricity poles and windmills. The Southern African Bird Atlas Project 2, using innovative data collection methods (such as the BirdLasser app) is tracking the birds range and relative abundance. See for more information.

For further information and photographs, please contact:
Nikki McCartney at or 083 636 1060

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Outing report - Mpenjati Nature Reserve, 24 January 2016

Mpenjati Estuary (photo: Hazel van Rooyen)
(Text: Hazel van Rooyen)
Attendees: Ron & Elaine Whitham, Eric Kok, June Burnett, Vaughn & Jenny Meyrick, Alastair Warman, Joey van Niekerk, Val & Stan Culley, Vic & Kay Nielson, Doug & Angie Butcher, Louis Marx, Irma Smook, Keith & Maureen Roach, Bob & Hazel van Rooyen
Bird count: 32 (see end)
Instead of the rain that was forecast, a misty morning greeted us at Mpenjati Nature Reserve.  A grand-spanking 20 folk turned up – a very encouraging turn-out and it was lovely to see some of the longer-standing members once again as well as some new faces.
Sunrise over Mpenjati (photo: Hazel van Rooyen)

Arriving at the South gate, the pop-pop-pop of the Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, the squawk of the Brown-hooded Kingfisher and screech of the Golden-tailed Woodpecker were the first to welcome us.  Moving down to the parking area, Woolly-necked Storks puddled about at the water’s edge and Pied Kingfishers dived spectacularly into the river.  Black Oyster-catchers and Grey Herons circled over the estuary while a Ruff and Common Sandpiper inspected the waterline for insects and other interesting invertebrates.

Woolly-necked Storks (photo: Hazel van Rooyen)

Brown-hooded Kingfisher (photo: Hazel van Rooyen)
Half the party ventured a walk up to the grassland area and although fairly quiet produced Green-backed Cameroptera, Fork-tailed Drongo, Black-collared Barbet, Amethyst Sunbird, Fan-tailed Widowbird, Dark-capped Bulbul, Hadedah Ibis, Glossy Starling and Sombre Greenbul.  A long-crested Eagle surveyed its world haughtily from a telephone pole, whilst a family of Yellow-billed Ducks flew overhead, quacking heartily.  Our usual pathway to the beach through the dune forest had become swampy but having found another route, on reaching the sand-dunes, it began to rain and not wanting to get equipment wet, we hurriedly retraced our steps to the cars by which time the rain had, of course, stopped.
Little Tern (photo: Stan Culley)

White-fronted Plover (photo: Stan Culley)

The other half of the party were by this time tucking into breakfast and we gladly joined them.  While we had been looking for birds of the veld and vlei, they had navigated the little bridge to the beach where they had espied  Blacksmith Plover, Little Tern, Swift Tern, Common Greenshank and a White-fronted plover scampered up and down the tideline like a bit of blown spume.  More Woolly-necked Storks strode and darted along the beach and on closer examination Vaughn observed they were trying to catch crabs.  Stan zoomed in on the Little and Swift Terns with his wonderful scope, demonstrating the difference in size.  

Getting stuck into breakfast (photo: Doug Butcher)

Replete (photo: Doug Butcher)

White-breasted Cormorant (photo: Stan Culley)
A White-breasted Cormorant perched proudly on a log as we finished our coffee, after which we drove round to the north side of the river.  On a reconnoitre of the trails, it appeared they were either partly under water, washed away or still in need of repair and as it was very hot and humid, after a short walk, we decided to view the birds from the comfort of our picnic chairs!  Lesser-striped and Barn Swallows fluttered and swooped over the water and a Giant Kingfisher flashed from one side to the other.  A pair of Water Thick-knees blended into the river bank beneath the bridge, a Little Egret sat stock still in the reeds and all was quiet and peaceful.

(All photographs copyright of the photographer)

Bird List:
Barbet, Black-collared
Bulbul, Dark-capped
Bulbul, Sombre
Cameroptera, Green-backed
Cormorant, White-fronted
Drongo, Fork-tailed
Duck, Yellow-billed
Eagle, African Fish
Eagle, Long-crested
Egret, Little
Greenshank, Common
Heron, Grey
Ibis, Hadedah
Kingfisher, Brown-hooded
Kingfisher, Giant
Kingfisher, Pied
Lapwing, Blacksmith
Oystercatcher, Black
Sandpiper, Common
Starling, Glossy
Stork, Woolly-necked
Sunbird, Amethyst
Swallow, Barn
Swallow, Lesser-striped
Tern, Little
Tern, Swift
Thick-knee, Water
Tinkerbird, Yellow-rumped
White-eye, Cape
Widowbird, Fan-tailed
Woodpecker, Golden-tailed


Saturday, 16 January 2016

UPCOMING OUTING - Mpenjati Nature Reserve: 24 January 2016

Meet at 07h00

This is a popular birding spot with the club, which often turns up some interesting and unusual sightings- bring a packed breakfast and braai for lunch. Don’t forget your chairs.

There is a R10 entrance fee. (Rhino Cards accepted).

There is a R20 pp charge for non-members of BirdLife Trogons.

Outings may be cancelled due to weather, check or phone Eric before setting off.

For further details & lift sharing telephone** Eric Kok 039 695 0573 or 072 751 0686.
** Please note we cannot respond to text messages or “call me” requests.


Directions- From the R61, meet at the Mpenjati South entrance.
GPS** S30 58 16.9 E30 16 53.0
**GPS position in DD MM SS.S

Pentad 3055_3015

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Outing report - Amanzimtoti Bird Sanctuary, 10 January 2016

 (Text: Hazel van Rooyen)
Attendees:   Stan & Val Culley, Bob & Hazel van Rooyen, Judith Gawehn (visitor)
Amanzimtoti Bird Park (photo: Hazel van Rooyen)
Total bird count: 44 species plus 2 at Illovo (see end)
Our first outing of 2016 found us visiting a new venue for the club, Amanzimtoti Bird Sanctuary, and later the Illovo River.  Disappointingly, the indeterminate weather combined with the distance must have discouraged people and only four members turned up, plus a visitor from Ballito, Judith, who was keen to explore the southern side of the KZN coast.  Well, I believe we shared a good morning’s birding at this little jewel of a park.  It is landscaped around a small pond which originally at the turn of the century (1900 century that is!) provided all the water needs of the town and is now home to a variety of water and forest birds.
Purple Heron (photo: Stan Culley)

Malachite Kingfisher (photo: Hazel van Rooyen)
Our arrival was heralded by the trumpeting of a Peacock on an adjacent rooftop and Stan soon spotted a Diederik Cuckoo.  A Red-capped Robin-Chat hopped and darted amongst the flower borders close to the entrance whilst a Tambourine Dove pecked at seed scattered by some generous visitor.  The resident White-eared Barbets perched on high branches and a Purple Heron swayed in the treetops overlooking the dam.  Common Moorhen and Little Grebe dived and paddled about the pond and a Malachite Kingfisher flashed hither and thither, totally unconscious of how it lit up a dull day.  Village Weavers were busy nesting on branches overhanging the water.  Black-bellied Starlings trilled and chattered and the resident Little Sparrowhawk swooped about overhead looking for a tasty meal.
Making a start up the Ilongwe Trail, several largish crabs were scuttling in the dead leaf debris and one had grabbed a toad almost as big as itself.  And he wasn’t letting go!  Forest birds chirped, tweeted and warbled all around us as we strolled through the lush riparian forest but the mosquitoes had us scuttling along in some places.  
African Paradise Fly-catcher (photo: Stan Culley)

Reed Cormorant (photo: Stan Culley)
 African Paradise Fly-catchers added enticing brief glimpses of rufous and blue.  Towards the rear of the park there is an open grassy area and we had a clear view to the skies of a Lanner Falcon harassing Woolly-necked Storks.  Here too, Brown-hooded Kingfishers and Violet-backed Starlings performed excited alightings and flicking of wings in the top of a dead tree.  A long walkway bridged the pond providing a shaded canopy either side from which to view the water birds.  A Reed Cormorant found a perfect pitch in a dead tree from which to catch unsuspecting fish, Yellow Weavers clung on to the reeds and Palm Swifts, Little Swifts, Lesser-striped and Barn Swallows wheeled and glided in the air.  Spurwing and Egyptian Geese were arriving from their roost – wings flapping and webbed feet braced for touch-down on the pond. 
Yellow Weaver (photo: Hazel van Rooyen)
Coffee-time in the picnic area (photo: Hazel van Rooyen)

After some refreshment at the picnic site, we followed another trail which crossed a small bridge over the stream, leading to a leafy glade where we spotted Thick-billed Weaver, Tawny-flanked Prinia, Black-collared Barbet and Purple-crested Turaco, amongst others.  In yet another secluded corner, a small stream trickled from the pond, watched over by a Mountain Wagtail.
Cape White-eye (photo: Hazel van Rooyen)

A bit later we made our way as planned to the Illovo River but unfortunately there was too much water for waders and the only water-birds we saw were a White-breasted Cormorant and Common Sandpiper, so we decided to call it a day, especially as the weather was beginning to break up.

(All photographs copyright of the photographers)

Barbet Black-collared
Kingfisher Brown-hooded
Swift Little
Barbet White-eared
Kingfisher Malachite
Swift Palm
Bulbul Dark-capped
Kite Yellow-billed
Tinkerbird Yellow-rumped
Cameroptera Green-backed
Mannikin Bronze
Turaco Purple-crested
Cormorant Reed
Moorhen Common
Wagtail Mountain
Cuckoo Diederik
Mousebird Speckled
Warbler Little Rush
Dove Red-eyed
Prinia Tawny-flanked
Warbler Willow
Dove Tambourine
Robin-Chat Red-capped
Weaver Spectacled
Drongo Fork-tailed
Sparrow Grey-headed
Weaver Thick-billed
Falcon Lanner
Sparrow-hawk Little
Weaver Village
Fly-catcher African Paradise
Starling Black-bellied
Weaver Yellow
Goose Egyptian
Starling Red-wing
White-eye Cape
Goose Spurwing
Starling Violet-backed
Illovo River
Grebe Little
Stork Woolly-necked
Cormorant White-breasted
Heron Purple
Swallow Barn
Sandpiper Common 
Ibis Hadedah
Swallow Lesser-striped