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.

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