Saturday, December 29, 2012

In search of the African Pitta: Northern Zimbabwe

The long road to Masoka 

After  recieving an E-mail from my friend Tony Archer, I was excited and on the other hand left breathless.
All what Tony was saying was that he was off to Zimbabwe with some birders to look for the  African Pitta.
Further down,  as I read the mail ; he was simply saying to me " Mpho, I want you to come on this trip".
So, I had to make a decision fast, that is very fast.

We left for Zimbabwe on the 8th December 2012, with a stop over at Louise Trichardt; so as to hit the border gate at Beit Bridge as early as possible on the 9th December 2012  and proceed to Harare.

Waking up in Harare on the 10th December 2012, gave us ample time to do some birding around the city. Well, with the assistance  of Ian, the local bird guide, we managed to spot some specials.

Yellow-mantle widowbird around Harare

After agood night rest at Harare, we were up early again on the 11th December 2012, heading towards the Zambesi Valley. A small village called Masoka was our destination.  A local bird guide by the name of Mackenzie was awaiting us to track down the Pitta.

The breath taking view of the Zambezi Valley

It was almost dark when we arrived at Masoka and  we set up camp at Masoka Wild Camp site along the Angwa River.

The Mighty Angwa River
Locals fetching water from the mighty Angwa River  

After a good night rest, the morning of the 12th December 2012, was overcast but the search for the African Pitta  had  to start in earnest as early as possible.

Base camp at Masoka Wild Camp site
Elephants passing by close to the camp site
Homesteads around Masoka

The road to the Pitta habitat

On arrival at the Pitta habitat, we learned from Mackenzie that he had searched the previouse day (for the bird) with no luck. So, the search continued.

It was about 10h00 when Mackenzie whispered in great excitement "There it is"; pointing at the Pitta. "Wow, what a beauty", I said to myself.

The African Pitta (the best I could get)

All cameras and binoculars were out to catch a glimpse of the bird but it was illusive hiding in the lower branches of the  thick forest. Later on the Pitta thought it was enough and disappeared into the forest. We called it a day and decided to come the next for a better shot.

Spotted Creeper showing in the area

On the 13th December 2012, after some birding around Masoka, we gave the Pitta a second try. We were back at the Pitta spot  again awaiting its appearance when a troup of elephants appeared and made us run for our dear lives. At least we gave it a second try. I will be back again soon.

The local church structure
The market place (well stocked)
The Pitta Crew ( left to right Dawie and Sarieta, Mackenzie, myself and the Zimbabwe Anti Poaching Unit Scout). The photo was taken by Tony Archer.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Rain at long last and then more migrants

We had two days of silent showers as a welcome relieve to the drought stricken areas around Mahikeng.
With the first rays of sunshine, this afternoon; I went out birding. One could hear the sound of birds again amidst the fresh rain soaked ground and trees.
I was first greeted by the Red-backed Shrike, the common summer visitor, perching conspicuously on a branch. Hooray!!! summer is here.

Red-backed Shrike

Friday, October 26, 2012

Lesser Flamingos at Modimola Dam

The recent dry weather conditions and lack of rain in and around Mahikeng had a devastating impact on the Modimola Dam. The only bright side of the whole saga is that this has invited a lot of shoreline birds as bonus.
Recently, a flock of Greater Flamingos had come to make the dam their temporary home. Quite, unusual in this area, there were Lesser Flamingos together with some juveniles among the.
We hope soooner or later the rains will come as the dam is graddualy shrinking.
Lesser Flamingo at Modimola Dam

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Pied Avocets decsend on Modimola Dam

The last time I saw Pied Avocets at Modimola Dam was three years ago. It was a nice surprise to see them in large numbers this year on Sunday. A common resident.

Pied Avocet wading using a sweeping, side-to-side bill movement

A local nomad seen sometimes in flocks or a handful

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Sighting of a melanistic Gabar Goshawk nearer home

One of my most enjoyable moments  while out birding and atlasing in the last two weeks; was a sighting of a melanistic form of a Gabar Goshawk within some few metres where I had spotted the normal one.
The last time, which was my first time, was at Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.
This time it was spotted less than 20km from my home.

Gabar Goshawk - common resident

Melanistic form of Gabar Goshawk - a rare occurrence (less than 20km form my home)

Melanistic Gabar Goshawk  I saw at Kgalagadi in March 2012

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Birding in the cold weather

I went out birding  and it was wet and chilly.Here are some of my surprises of the day.

Red-billed Oxpecker - regularly wanders beyond normal range (near threatened)

Fiscal Flycatcher - confusion most likely with Common Fiscal

Friday, June 22, 2012

HELP identify the raptor: the final result

This is a follow-up to my last posting

I have received overwhelming response on the identification of the raptor from my last posting on the above subject.
Based on all the inputs and suggestions the final verdict, from my own research as well, is that the bird was an African Hawk-Eagle.
Thanx to all the followers who contributed
Juvenile African Hawk-Eagle

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Birding the “No man’s land”: Help ID the bird

Please help in identifying a bird that I spotted while birding along the South African border with Botswana last Saturday. The bird was perched on the Botswana side and I could only get a shot of it after spotting it with my binoculars and off it went.

Help ID the bird

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Birding in winter II: the "no man's land"

I went birding on the Botswana and South African border on Saturday.
 In that bitterly cold winter weather ,there were still some interesting species to see. While the space between the two countries was only the “no man’s land” strip of land; the birds were flying over it, in and out of the two countries. Others, like the Scaly-feathered Finch had their nests based in the “no man’s land”.
The Little Bee-eaters were out on display while a solitary Swallow-tailed one was on a wire perch enjoying the sun on the Botswana side.
The Little Bee-eater enjoying a snack from the other side of the border

Just perching for a brief moment - where to now.
South Africa or Botswana?

Swallow-tailed Bee-eater - enjoying the winter sun on the Botswana side

The strip of land between the fences - "No man's land"

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Birding in winter: is still fun

It's already winter time down here in South Africa. All migrants are gone and some of the locals are really wonderful and keep the spirit of birding alive. Here are some of the locals.

Bokmakierie - a near endemic resident

Temminck's Courser - a fairly common resident

Marico Flycatcher - a common near endemic resident
Capped Wheatear - common localised resident

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Ticks on birds: a common sight or not

While birding I came across this tick infested Short-clawed Lark. At a glance one would not notice the ticks around its neck and crown. It looked quite healthy, but it was only after realizing that it was infested with ticks that I took interest in the bird.

 The Short-clawed Lark being “near-threatened” according to the Red Data List; was this not going to be one of the contributory factors towards its extinction? How vulnerable are birds towards this blood sucking parasites?
Tick -infested Short-clawed Lark
At a glance all looked funny to identify

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Short-clawed Lark: near threatened

I was amazed by a discovery of several pairs (three in number) of Short-clawed Larks while  birding this morning near the village of Moletsamongwe, North-west of Mahikeng in the  North West Province. That was within an area of 2.3 ha in fallow land adjoining the village.
According to the Red Data List, they are Near-threatened.  We need to protect them.

Short-clawed Lark calling from on top of a bush

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

"Dive-bombing" the enemy: why do birds do it?
I spend three days at the Bird Atlass Bash at Vaalboskraal near Mareetsane in the North West Province. This was for SABAP2 (South African Bird Atlass Project ) It was real fun.
While atlassing pentad 2600_2535 and 2605_2535, I  witness a spectacle where a Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk was being mobbed by Pied Crow at first, then a Black Shouldered Kite.
Birds normally mob an intruder who enters their territory by harrasing, intimidating and chasing off using the "dive-bombing"  or "sally attacks" techniques. Protection of a territory. Here is the story

The Pale Chanting Goshawk just perched on a power line
(being in a wrong territory)

Along came a Black-shouldered Kite

Dive bombing

Moved to another location for its own safety

But along came a Pied Crow this time

Monday, April 16, 2012

Little Banded Goshawk (Shikra) back in my garden: feeders deserted

A Little Banded Goshawk (Shikra) turned up again in my garden after a five year absence.  I always wake up to the chirping sounds of Red Headed Finches and other birds from my garden.  Surprised by the silence this morning; I went out to investigate.
All the feeders were deserted except for some few Laughing Doves hanging around on the fence. Looking up further into the canopy of the tall trees; there was the culprit – Little Banded Goshawk (Shikra) boldly staring at me.
Little Banded Goshawk (Shikra) - early in the morning

 Little Banded Goshawk (Sikra) waiting for the kill

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Kgalagadi: the thirst land

The solar driven water pumps that keep the water-holes at Kgalagadi well stocked up are a big relief to the water scarce desert land. At these water holes one is able to see wild life at its best.
While at Cubetjie Quap water-hole, I saw a very thirsty solitary White stock quenching, drenching itself and bathing, while Black-backed jackal had its eyes on a Black Kite nearby. After a desperate attempt by the jackal to catch the kite; the White Stock had no alternative but to abandon the cooling precious find and take off. The Black –backed jackal had all the water-hole to itself thereafter.Here it goes (Right-click image to enlarge).

The White Stock quenching its thirst

Black Kite evading the Black-backed Jackal

The Black-backed Jackal  turn to quench its thirst

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Little Crake at Clovelly: departs after 12 days in the wetlands

Our Little Crake departed on the night of the 2nd April 2012 to the disappointment of locals and all country-wide who were planning to go on pilgrimage to the Small Town of Clovelly in the Western Cape over the Eater Weekend to see her.
However, with all the hype of activity and commotion that was generated around the wetlands there; Ornithology scholars, Birding and Bird-watching fraternity had a good opportunity to acquire more knowledge on the age old mystery called “bird migration”.
During her brief stay culmination of debates and speculations were in the air centred around the following:-
  • How long the bird was going to be in the area?
  • What possibilities were there to avoid dehybridisation?
  • Even to remove or not to remove her?
Meanwhile, the course of nature took precedence and gave the avian visitor some space to regain  more energy for another long journey back to the right breeding grounds.
It has been estimated that hundreds had already seen her and more were expected.
What a Mega Twitch: as we recall (right-click to enlarge image)

"There she is" -  as twitchers came from all corners
(Photo: courtesy of Tony Archer)
Even the local Weaver came to pay homage - Curious
(Photo: courtesy of Tony Archer)
The Little Crake - Till next time
(Photo: courtesy of Tony Archer)