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!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Limpopo Forest to River trip April 6th to 19th

Steve and Gloria Wilson

The first bird! LCE
With the Amur Falcons well on their way to their breeding ground, we were going to remain in the northern province of Limpopo which meant more time in the forests and also a visit into the Kruger National Park at Pafuri, a place I had never been to before.

We set off to the misty highland forests of the escarpment, only to run into a big rain front! We did as best we could in the first, but too much water and rain made it impossible to do anything.
However, we did manage to catch Steve's first ever Eagle in the form of a lovely Long-crested Eagle, an adult female.

We set off North to to the extreme north east of the country and a bush camp on the Luvuvhu River. The next day at dawn we entered the Kruger and made our way further east. On the way we stopped to watch a bird party and then I spotted a bird I had always wanted to see, Arnott's Chat!! a small family party of them! We also got Brown-headed Parrot too. Later on we found a herd of Elephants, and later Buffalo. Somewhere near Punda Maria camp, we stopped at a waterhole and there right in front of us laying in the shade of a tree was a huge female Lioness!
One of the most memorable places was Crooks Corner, the apex of South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique, here there was nice open grassland and riverine woodland. Saw a juvenile Martial Eagle, shame we couldn't trap here!!

Round camp we got a few nets up and caught Collared Sunbird, Southern Boubou, Terrestrial Brownbul, White-browed Robin-chat and had fly over Grey-headed Parrots! A good place for watching raptors here, we had Verreaux's, and Martial Eagle, Wahlberg's and Booted Eagles, African Hawk and Black-chested and Brown Snake Eagles, Tawny Eagle, Honey Buzzard African Goshawk, Harrier Hawk, Shikra, Cuckoo Hawk, Fish Eagle and Bateleur from camp!

We spent another 2 days after the Kruger up in the Soutpansberg mountains and again unfortunately got rained off. When there was a break, took a drive and going through a bit of plantation, suddenly came across an adult male Crowned Eagle!! I managed to get a trap down and back off, I couldn't go very far, as I had to keep my eye in things. The bird reacted and came in over the trap to land in a tree above the road!! My heart was in my mouth as I have never caught one of these magnificent eagles before. We could see the bird, looking intently at the trap, it mannered itself to make a launch, when a vehicle came round the corner, birdwatchers!!!, The eagle flew and that was that. How very frustrating!
adult male Green-winged Pytilia

Up into Mpangubwe National park next and at our private bush lodge, set a few nets. We got a nice selection of birds, Golden and Cinnamon Breasted Buntings, White-bellied Sunbirds, Fork-tailed Drongo, Cape-glossy Starling, Emerald-spotted Wood Dove, Red-winged Starling and a Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill.
view from the ringing base!
Road trapping we got a 2nd yr male Dark-chanting Goshawk and a 3rd yr Brown Snake-eagle.

Moving west to our next area, we got Pale-chanting Goshawk and a Lanner Falcon, another juvenile male in the same spot as previous trips this year, hanging out picking off the Red-billed Quelea which must still be breeding here.

Meve's Starling
Next bush lodge, we set nets and had a very pleasant couple of sessions. To start with, we caught 5 species of Kingfisher, including another Giant Kingfisher!!! Two Woodland, Brown-hooded, Malachite and Pygmy Kingfishers. I also put up the stuffed eagle owl to get a response and was not disappointed! At one point there were 6 hornbills in the nets! Getting Red-billed and Grey, as well as Red-headed Weavers, Orange-breasted Bush-shrike, Meve's Starlings, Arrow-marked Babblers and White-throated Robin-chat! Other nets produced Greater and Lesser Honeyguides, Kurrichane Thrush and a flock of White-crowned Helmet-shrikes.
WT Robin-chat

Had to evict a Nile Monitor from Steve and Glorias room at one, point, lucky it was only a small one, but did give a good account of itself!

Heading back south, we got a pretty special bit of action, when I spotted a pair of Brown Snake-eagles on a pylon. I got a trap down and it wasn't long before the male came in and on to the trap.
While the bird was working the trap, the female decided to join its mate and then they were both on the trap! Next thing i was wrestling with a pair of very large eagles! Wow! Have only ever caught two BSE's on one trap before and a great way to finish a very pleasant trip!

The double! Brown Snake-eagles
91 birds of 48 species.

ad m Grey Hornbill

Woodland Kingfisher

The unwanted lodger!

Limpopo to KZN trip March 18th to 31st 2017

Alice Tribe, Colin Wilson, Rachel Kilby, Ray Marsh, Diane WIlliams and Peter Robinson.
Colin with a cracking ad GK

Alice with a cracking adult male LK
Starting the trip in a clockwise fashion this time, we set off north to the Limpopo Valley. Road-trapping produced Lesser and Greater Kestrels, Black-shouldered Kite and Pale-chanting Goshawks. Saw a pair of Secretarybirds which is always encouraging.

At our bush lodge on the Limpopo, the highlights were undoubtedly getting a Giant Kingfisher in a 40 foot net, in a spot where the last bird you wold thing would be a Giant Kingfisher! Then at night we dazzled Firey-necked Nightjar and called in two juvenile African Scops Owls, a good birthday present for Alice!
Road-trapping produced 2 Brown Snake-eagles a Black-chested Snake-eagle and a Lesser-grey Shrike.

Next bush lodge was in the Vhembe-Dongola region, one of many nature conservancies and Mopane tree habitat, good for raptors! We did ok on the latter, getting another Brown Snake-eagle, a second year bird, followed by an adult female Dark-chanting Goshawk and two African Hawk Eagles. The first one a spectacular catch from some 6-700m away. Two birds were sat up high on a ridge, we dropped and waited all of 2 minutes before they both came in, the female continuing and the male landing on the trap!
Rachel with an ad m AHE

Ray with an adult BCSE
Next morning on the way south now, we got another Black-chested Snake-eagle first thing, an adult and tried for a Tawny Eagle, a big juvenile bird, which came in but lost interest, trap shy.
Got another Dark-chanting Goshawk, a 2nd yr female, then two Brown Snake-eagles in quick succession! One a 1st year and an adult.
Next up we came across a Steppe Buzzard and dropped, only to realise there was a Black-chested Snake-eagle on the next pole! dropped a second trap and waited. The BCSE was not interested in his trap, but when the SB dropped to the first trap, it was too much! the BCSE flew to the first trap and we got it! It must be competition, not having another lesser predator take food in your area. The BCSE was the biggest Ive ever caught at 2.1kg's. This was followed up by getting a 1st yr Steppe Buzzard a bit later, not the same one!
Swee Waxbill

Into the misty mountains next, and here we had a few tremendous mist-netting sessions, setting nets in low scrub. We got some lovely birds. Yellow Bishops in breeding plumage, endemic Barratt's Warblers, Southern Double-collared Sunbirds, Swee Waxbills, Drakensberg Prinias, Olive Thrush, Cape Robin-chat's, Golden Weavers and African Stonechat to name a few.
Road-trapping here we got a lovely adult female Long-crested Eagle and a lovely adult Jackal Buzzard,both birds specific to this region and habitat.

OT Warbler
We dropped down into the Lowveld next, to the site next to the Kruger, so we heard the Lions at night! Netting here was slower, but got Willow Warblers and Red-backed Shrikes and the speciality former, Olive-tree Warbler, very few of these are ringed in SA and I have found a good little spot for them here, they were looking very smart now having finished moulting.

Heading back onto the Highveld grassland biome, we stopped at the escarpment to scan the cliffs for the very rare and threatened Taita Falcon. It took a few minutes, but were rewarded with a bird sitting high up above us, an adult, which took off in pursuit of some unfortunate hirundine, but what a stoop!

On the way we got another Jackal Buzzard, a 2nd year male and another adult female Long-crested Eagle. At the Farmhouse where we stay, we set the usual nets above the forest in the gorge and headed down to Newcastle to Rina Pretorius who runs the show, to ring at the Amur Falcon roost. The roost was much reduced already, with birds heading north through Africa to eventually arrive on their breeding grounds in eastern Siberia!

We got 8 Amur Falcons over the 2 nights and 5 on the last night with only a few hundred birds present where there can be nearly 40,000 birds!

Netting round the farm we got Chorister Robin-chat, Olive Thrush, Cape Batis. Road-trapping we got our 3rd Jackal Buzzard, an adult male and a retrap which had been ringed by Rina 10 years ago!!

So all in we did ok, with 187 birds caught of 67 species!

Purple Roller
LCE ad F
Colin with a Brown Snake-eagle
adult male Amur Falcon

the 10 year old retrap JB!