Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Limpopo to KwaZulu Natal Roller coaster March 2018

SA RINGING TRIP MARCH 6th to 18th 2018

Richard Dobbins
Eugene and Linda Hood
Hugh Pulsford
Kevin Middleton and
Emma Turnbull.

Another trip successfully completed. This one was interesting in that some of our target species of several Palearctic migrants were thin on the ground. This could be due to consecutive poor breeding years in europe as well as an odd El Nino phenomenon influencing timing of departures of many migrants.
One migrant however, the European Roller, were encountered in good numbers and most significantly we caught a total of 16 birds, doubling that of the National total ever caught through the SAFRING scheme.

We all had a great time playing with a good number of birds species.

We headed north into the 'Flats' and area of farmland and thorn scrub and a good one for many palearctic migrants. Straight off, had a reaction from a Steppe Buzzard, but it lost interest. Good to see a pair of Secretary Birds and White Storks, a Lesser-spotted Eagle, Lesser-grey and Red-backed Shrikes, Lesser Kestrel and a 2 distant Snake-eagles. We got 2 Steppe Buzzards, a 3rd year and an adult to end the day before getting to our lodge.

Left early and headed up into the Limpopo Valley to our next bush lodge. First off got a young Black-winged Kite for Emma, followed by an adult Steppe Buzzard and saw a remarkable congregation of some 5 Brown Snake Eagles in a relatively small area, 2 of which scorned our lures!

saw a total of 12 Snake Eagles, both Black-chested and Brown, obviously concentrating on non rodent prey, which is a challenge when using rodent lures! In fact we had one Black-chested SE fly over trap to feed on I think grasshoppers! We did get an adult female Amur Falcon that beat a European Roller to the trap!

Next bird was a lovely adult male African Hawk Eagle, our first eagle which Richard ringed, followed then by a big adult Brown Snake Eagle of 2,2kg which Kevin ringed.
Shortly before getting to the bush lodge we got an adult Black-chested Snake Eagle of 1.58kg which Hugh ringed.

We got a few nets up that afternoon and got a Woodland Kingfisher, this site is a good one for this breeding afro-tropical migrant that has been geolocated up to Chad! I have had retraps here of birds over 5 years. Also Brown Hooded retrap, also good as a resident breeder here.
Dazzled a Crowned Plover and Rufous-naped Lark after supper.

A slow morning, got a couple of Spotted Flycatchers and another Woodland Kingfisher. We took of on a raptor run along my usual routes and got 3 Lilac-breasted Rollers and 2 2nd year Steppe Buzzards, an adult Pale-chanting Goshawk, and a cracking adult male Lanner. Nice to see so many birds around and responding. We ended the morning with another adult Black-chested Snake Eagle of 1.37kg which Eugene ringed.

That afternoon we got a small variety of birds to the nets including a Southern Red-billed Hornbill and in the owl net later got an African Scops Owl.
Next morning netted a Pearl-spotted Owlet, a Pygmy Kingfisher (another afro-tropical migrant) and a Natal Francolin!

Set off to our next lodge, a private concession in Mpungubwe National park. First bird was a young Steppe Buzzard, followed by an adult and 2nd year Dark-chanting Goshawk, then I spotted a Wahlberg's Eagle dropping rapidly out of the sky onto something, but it landed in a small tree, so we quickly deployed trap and in no time caught the bird, an adult male at 1.22kg.

Next up was a European Roller that came into my modified spring trap and mouse. These birds can be so hard to catch, and when there are other birds to catch, i don't normally go for them, but sometimes they react well depending on the stage they are on migration.

Next was another juv Steppe Buzzard, a large brown morph followed by another adult Black-chested Snake Eagle at 1.51kg before we got to our lodge. Dropped for a 3rd BC Snake-eagle, but on closer inspection the bird was ringed and was too wary of trap. More reason to colour ring this species.

Got a few nets up and ringed a few Cinnamon and Golden-breasted Buntings plus a Grey-go-away Bird! That night we went out dazzling, and didn't find much other than a Fiery-necked Nightjar and got given the run around by a Spotted Eagle Owl which after suspiciously walking round a trap, succumbed to Richards dazzling skills!

After a noisy night of Lions roaring not too far away, we opened and among other, got a freshly moulted Icterine Warbler, before the wind got too bad to net. Did a raptor run and came across a pair of Tawny Eagles feeding on a dead road killed Bat-eared Fox, tried to catch them, but again, to fixed on their stinky fox to bother with nice fresh mice. Also came across a pair of adult Verreaux's Eagles perched up on a big rock, we set a trap and got quite a few looks, but that was all!

We now began our journey south away from the Limpopo valley and trapping along the way, got a PC Goshawk, another Steppe Buzzard and came across a juvenile Martial Eagle that had just killed and was feasting on a mongoose of some sort. Tried to tempt it with rodents, but not likely! Afternoon was still windy so went to look at some ancient Bushman rock art in a some caves.

We were now seeing lots of Euro Rollers on phone lines and in the absence of Steppe Buzzards, decided to persevere with them. Well, what a result, with 8 birds caught en route to the next bush camp! We also got an adult male Lesser Kestrel and Steppe Buzzard.

Next morning the wind was still a problem, but we got a handful of 10 of the very vocal Southern White-crowned Shrikes and a cracking male Rufous-cheeked Nightjar among other before setting out on a raptor run. We hadn't got far when we cam across a pair of adult African Hawk Eagles, dropped a trap for each and had the pair both at one (typical!) and got the male, a bird of 1.35kg. Carying on on or Roller roll, we got another 5 ringed, plus Steppe Buzzard, Shikra and Lesser Kestrel.
Got back to our bush lodge to find a lovely Boomslang sitting at the door to Emmas hut!

Heading now up into the mountains, getting a pair of Greater kestrel and another male lanner, a just this time as well as a couple of Steppe Buzzards. We also came across a Peregrine of the local race minor and dropped a weaver for it, the bird came in a few times to try and flush it, but eventually gave up. We enter a different habitat now to our bush lodge cum brewery!, and it was not long before we got a lovely adult Jackal Buzzard. Netting was good with some nice endemic Forest Canaries (including a retrap from Feb last year) Drakensberg Prinia, Cape Batis,  and Olive Bush Shrike.
On a raptor run to try find some of the forest species we got another Jackal Buzzard (a strangely grey bird) and a Long-crested Eagle which Kevin ringed.

Down now into the Lowveld on our last leg of the journey getting a juv Lizard Buzzard and another DC Goshawk en route. Got to our lodge, set nets and in no time had an Olive-tree Warbler in the net over the speaker! Not many of these birds ringed in SA and this is a good site for them. We got a few good birds, including Red-backed Shrikes (a retrap from 2017) Willow Warbler and Eastern Bearded Scrub Robins. Tried to call in an African Barred Owl which was calling the night before, but no sign of him!
Leaving here we now ascended the eastern escarpment up onto the Highveld Grassland biome. on the way we stopped to see a Taita Falcon in SA, a regular site for this extremely rare bird in SA.

We had to drove 475 km's this day, so not much caught en route. We got to our farm house in the mountains before heading to the Amur Falcon roost in the town of Newcastle. And we were not disappointed by the sheer size of the roos. There were possibly 15-20,000 bird that had mustered, and in a wind of 45mins, managed to catch an adult male and adult female only.

Then the rain really came. It was a nerve wracking drive back up the pass to the farm house on a very treacherous and slippery road.
It rained all morning the following day and we managed to get out after lunch for a few hours on dodgy roads, but did see some good stuff. Blue and Grey Crowned Cranes for one, plus Red-throated Wryneck and Cape Grassbird. We dropped for a Juv Jackal Buzzard which came in but got off the trap.
Before packing up in the morning, I heard Cape Eagle Owl calling nearby from the forested gorge!

So it was to the airport to drop Emma off, then to shoot down to my grassland site 90 mis from the airport where we set a net for SA Cliff Swallows and got 3. The birds had all finished breeding and we were lucky to get 3. We also got a bonus pair of Malachite Kingfishers.
We saw African Marsh, Montague's and Pallid Harriers, Secretary Birds, Blue Cranes, Mountain Wheatear, lots of waterfowl and a roosting Spotted Eagle Owl!

All up we caught 205 birds of 87 species including 16 retraps. We saw a total of  296 bird species and a great host of mammals, reptiles and insects.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

long weekend up to Mpungubwe National park and the Magoebaskloof mountain forests.
4-6th of August
With Hylton Graeme and the 4 kids

We started trapping in one of my thorn scrub sites just south of the Soutpansberg mountains, not much about at all and managed to get a pair of Pale-chanting Goshawks on the one trap!

Only other bird we saw was an African Hawk Eagle that flew before we could get to it.

The Big Girl!
Next morning we drove though one of my most favourite roads, elephant, Eland, Impala and Zebra were everywhere! And we almost missed a huge bird sitting on a pole some 300m up the track. MARTIAL EAGLE!!
The kids were told in no uncertain terms that one squeak out of them would result in a painful and slow death!
serious ornitholets!
We got a trap down some 200m from the bird and backed off, no room to pass here in case we flushed it. The bird immediately saw the movement and turned round, only then did we see how massive the bird was! After a few seconds, it launched itself off the pole, out and down, low over the ground to land right next to the trap. There was a collective gathering of hearts in mouths, as we watched this enormous eagle work the trap. Martials are quite calm and not given to excitable grabbing in these situations, which makes for an even harder catch. The getting caught process can take an hour or so, I know, I have done it a few times!
very chuffed girl!
Cave art girls!

But then, some 800m further up the road, 2 vehicles were approaching from the opposite direction!! Nightmare! The bird would flush and we could do nothing about it!! I waited until the vehicles were the same distance from the bird that we were, and then went for it. The bird was caught! It took the trap a good 20m where i caught up to it in a full length dive, grabbing the bird and breaking a (my) rib in the process!
Wow, what a beast. The other vehicles had stopped and were looking out like a bunch of hungry goldfish at the side of a tank! I explained to them what we were doing and asked if they would like to watch. They were a big family from Sweden on their last day of holiday!!
Kara and the JB

The bird was obviously a female and a 2nd year, it weighed in at 5kg's and my eldest daughter Gracie, did the honours and ringed it. Not many 12 year old girls have ringed Africa's largest eagle.
After releasing the bird, the Swedes were quite emotional (as we were!) and said that this was the best experience they had had on their holiday!!!

Well after that, what else was there???!!!

Well, we caught no more raptors and spent a calming hour looking at the cave rock art made by the Bushmen 16,000 years ago!

Then it was back to Magoebskloof where we got a single adult Jackal Buzzard outside Hearnetzberg.

So that was it, 3 days, 4 birds, but the one big one more than made up for it!!!

Friday, November 10, 2017

Three day trips out of Johannesburg to the SE and North. June July 2017

Craig Natrass myself and my daughter Kara-Mae headed down to this lovely region of grassland and cattle grazing country of Greylingstad.

Juv Jackal Buzzard
We got a Greater Kestrel first off, followed by 2 Jackal Buzzards, both well fed, a juvenile and 3rd year bird. Possibly coming into this region from the Drakensberg some 200km away to cash in on whatever they were feeding on. We got 2 more Greater Kestrels that day.

Another trip to this site in September got us a Black-chested Snake-eagle, a second year bird and a great catch that took 2 hours before we could drop successfully for it! Also a non breeding bird to that area and seldom seen there, so it would be very interesting to know where it had come from.
Kara-Mae with a 3rd year JB
Kara with an adult Gtr Kestrel
2nd year BC Snake-eagle
We returned again to this site in October this time to look if any Steppe Buzzards had arrived on their wintering grounds. We were in luck! we came across 4 birds and managed to catch 2. Both 3d year birds and intriguingly one had tied round its leg a tight knot of string. I can only imagine this bird had been caught somewhere in the middle east and it had escaped! Good for the bird!
A real surprise was finding and catching a 2nd year Pale-chanting Goshawk here, way out of range for it, and not recorded in the area before.  We also got another Jackal Buzzard, another 3rd year bird.

One of the plans was to catch and ring the South African Cliff Swallows which breed under all the little bridges in the area. These Afro-tropical migrants arrive here in September and leave in April.
So we got a net under 3 different bridges and caught 23 birds before the wind got too strong.

SA Cliff Swallow
SA Cliff Swallow
Saw some good birds here, loots of Secretarybirds, Blue Crane, Blue Korhaan, flocks of Pink-billed Larks.
2nd year PCG, nice moult!
2 3rd year Steppe Buzzards, different morphs

string around the SB leg

In pursuit of the secretive Forest Buzzard
Soutpansberg and Magoebaskloof Limpopo Province July 2017
With Michael Parker.

Af Hawk Eagle
The Forest Buzzard is the only endemic migratory raptor in South Africa, breeding down in the Eastern Cape and migrating up to the eastern escarpment for from March to August, before heading back.
On the way up to the Soutpansberg, we went through one of our best trapping sites, but were frustrated with not being able to catch anything, saw 6 Black-chested Snake Eagles, 1 Brown Snake-eagle and 2 African Hawk Eagles. Tried for a juv Lanner, but it lost interest. Ditto with a pair of Gabar Goshawks who didn't see the trap!
All we caught on the first day was a Purple Roller in desperation!
Brown Snake-eagle
the 1st Forest Buzzard

3rd FB
That night we put on a call for Wood Owl, but soon switched over when I heard a Cape Eagle Owl calling!! It never came in sadly.

Ad Jackal Buzzard
The next morning we set off North over the mountains and tried a new area, still no luck and not many birds around. We finally got a n adult male African Hawk Eagle, such gorgeous birds then an adult Brown Snake Eagle and an adult male Lanner, all on the one road! (like the number 9 bus...!).

Later that day we were into the higher elevation of the Magoebaskloof forest area, plantation and indigenous forest. We were making our way to the lodge, when there on a pole was a Forest Buzzard! Got a trap out and the bird came in and Bam! new one for Michael!
At 850g, the bird was in good condition.
just a little bit later we spotted another one a bit far off which didn't see the trap.
Long-crested Eagle

Next day, we set off with a frost and 2 degrees! tried for a pair of Long-crested Eagles, but they were too interested in each other to look at what we had to offer!! Then saw another Forest Buzzard, couldn't get near it. Then we got an adult Jackal Buzzard before heading back for breakfast. Set nets in rides, got a few Cape With-eyes and a retrap Barratt's Warbler i had ringed last March.

the Crest!
Later that afternoon, we got another Forest Buzzard, an adult at 730g, in exactly the same spot we got the Jackal Buzzard in the morning, the marks from the trap were there to the inch!! Tried for a juv JB, but it got flushed by a vehicle. A bit later we found another FB in a spot where I have had a lot of success catching them, mature pine plantation, which they seem to like, probably good understory to hunt in.
We got the bird, our 3rd! It was an adult and weighed in at 763g.

Heading home the next day we managed to catch an adult Long-crested Eagle just outside the village of Hearnetzberg. Much later we got another Jackal Buzzard, a 'wintering' bird down in the farmland from the hilly Waterberg.

May Migration at Tommy Thompson Bird Park Research Station

White-rumped Sandpiper
Semi-palmated Sandpiper
Taking a break from African birds I went across the pond to see my Charlotte and catch Shorebirds and Raptors!
 The most incredible thing was having to deal with Lake Ontario being 1.5m higher than last time!! There were 30lb Carp swimming along the net rides and in the car park!! We even had a Solitary Sandpiper feeding in the car park! So Shorebird catching was a challenge, but managed a really nice little net set with just 2 two shelf 60' nets.

Eastern Bluebird

Indigo Bunting
Shorebirds were coming through in nice little manageable flocks of 3 to 20 and one big flock of 100+ Semi-palmated Sandpipers, of which i got 35! We did 260 birds over the 4 weeks, including 200 Semi-palmated Sandpiper with the rest being Semi-palmated Plover, Least Sandpiper, White-rumped Sandpiper, Dunlin and Spotted Sandpiper.

Road trapping was hard, but amazingly we managed to catch 2 Broad-winged Hawks! Such awesome little Buteos and hardly ever caught on BC's.

Red-tailed Hawk

Charlotte with a RTHA
We also got 2 Red-tailed Hawks and 5 American Kestrels. We also popped into a rehab place and ringed an adult Osprey, that was stuffing itself with local fish, and was released successfully a week later.

A few choice birds from the Station including a Bluebird and Pine Warbler, both firsts for me!


Broad-winged Hawk

Summer plumaged Dunlin
The decoys ready and waiting
a catch of pipers!

The ringing lab car park!