Saturday 30 March 2019

South Africa 2019 Part 2

This second post includes non-raptors and other trip highlights.
During the heat of the day we undertook various drives not only for raptors but to bird or enjoy the country.
Whilst staying at our Ndabushi site this drive took us into the Blyde River Canyon at the foot of the Drakensberg Mountains. This a site for Verraux's Eagle one of the few raptor species which we didn't see but from the bridge we saw an African Finfoot and the sky was full of locally breeding Little Swifts.
An incredible scenic setting...

Wildlife appears everywhere on a trip like this....

We left the airport for our first site Intulo, catching some raptors on the way.

Nets placed in scrub at the site for the morning but the initial target was Little Swifts nesting in the buildings.

Seven Little Swifts were ringed and a Pearl Spotted Owlet obligingly appeared.

Next morning the nets were opened, a couple of spring traps set and a variety of birds were ringed. The following Palearctic migrants were the highlights. Common Whitethroat (a notable species for here) Willow Warbler and Red-backed Shrikes.

On to Speculatie, a farm near the Botswana border where birding rather than morning ringing produced the best results. With species including Little Bee-eater and Double-banded Sandgouse at the watering hole.

Scaly-feathered Finch

We did have interesting results in the evening though with two European Nightjars caught, both appearing to have suspended moult. A third European Nightjar was ringed the following morning, this bird still moulting flight feathers.

Our third location was Kaoxa in the Mpungubwe National Park. Wonderful views from the ringing table out to the Botswana and Zimbabwe borders. Elephants in the distance and Rock Hyraxes on the close rocks. Lions, Hyenas and Jackals calling at night...

The birds caught here were mainly around the swimming pool....

Species here included several Green-winged Ptylia

Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Golden-breasted Bunting, and Greater Blue-eared Starlings.

During the heat of the days two great drives through the bush, several Kori Bustards amongst the Zebras, Wildebeest, Giraffes, Jackals...etc..

Kori Bustard - one of 6 seen on the plain there

Red-billed Oxpeckers

 On our first night here, no Nightjars came to the nets, but I managed to pick up this Freckled Nightjar.

Out on a night drive whilst based at Koaxa we had an amazing experience....
We came across a roadside Spotted Eagle Owl and we dropped a trap. Whilst waiting for a response, a Red-crested Korhaan flew and landed on the road. Amazing viewing for the team as I managed to catch the Korhaan, on a noisy underfoot gravel road, whilst keeping their eyes on the Eagle Owl as it arrived on the trap.

A majestic Spotted Eagle Owl,.

On the journey back to the site we did pick up a Cinnamon-breasted Bunting  which we roosted overnight before release in the morning.

 Kaoxa is also an historical site for cave paintings

After a visit to view the artwork here we are looking at the nesting Rock Martins, Cinnamon-breasted Buntings and the Mocking Cliff Chats.

Our next site was at Zulani, where recent rains had made the surrounding land fertile and full of seeding grasses. A mighty Red-billed Quelea colony was present, at least 10km long along the one side we travelled. This colony was the cause of our next spectacle ! The colony was a feeding ground for a combination of raptors and storks, the main species being Lesser Spotted Eagles, White, Abdim's and Maribou Storks. Birds arriving in the thermal above forming a spectacular kettle.

Every night we cooked on a Brai, fresh steak daily...

.....complemented with Malcolm's famous Veg packs

Last year on a similar timed visit we ringed 16 European Rollers, this visit we only managed two.
How each year and visit differ ! Whilst searching roadside wires for the often 3 species of  Roller that are present in the area, we encounter far more Red-backed and Lesser Grey Shrikes.

Zwakala Brewery was our next ringing base and lodge, a craft brewery overlooking the Wolkberg mountains.

Our first visit to higher altitude....a drop in temperature and forest, riverine and cultivation more akin to home in Wales.

Spring traps were valuable here for catching birds like this Cape Robin-Chat

This delightful Swee Waxbill, one of the endemic species of the higher altitude area as were the Forest Canaries and the 2 Barratt's Warblers we captured. The first Barratt's Warbler was a valuable recapture.

After Zwakala we headed down to the Lowveld and heat again staying at Ndabushi Lodge bordering the Kruger

Here around our accommodation Wire-tailed Swallow were always present, nesting nearby.

Nyala around the nets....

Here we were able to set some nets in the riverside vegetation. We were hoping for Olive-tree Warbler and Marsh Warbler here. No luck with the Olive-tree Warblers on this visit but we did catch 8 Marsh Warblers. As part of processing we do moult score the primaries of every bird. For both Marsh and Willow Warblers we had birds in active wing moult and birds that had finished their moult.

Interesting race Willow Warblers - both ‘acredula/yukutensis and trochilus sub-species.

A few common residents,  Black-backed Puffback

African Pygmy Kingfisher

Our final site was Moorfield Farm near Muller's Pass at 1750m. Surrounded by superb Highveld grassland, the land of Cranes, Black Harrier and Secretary Bird.

Cape Batis recapture.

All the sites that where we use mist nets are regular ringing sites for Malcolm, therefore we do recapture a proportion of resident birds. None on this visit but we do recapture site faithful Palearctic wintering birds too eg a Red-backed Shrike on a visit in Feb 2018.

African Thrush

A Highveld speciality - Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler

Many Cape White-eye,  the " Blue Tits" of our higher altitude sites

This waterfall was at end of our net rides at this location.

We used Moorfield Farm not only as a ringing site but for accommodation that best suits visits to the Amur Falcon roost in Newcastle, as described in the previous post.

We encountered a great variety of insects on the trip, this Katydid was our favourite and one of the more colourful.

A final mist net session on the way to the airport, the low bridges across the streams often have breeding endemic South African Cliff Swallows.

We caught 28 SA Cliff Swallows and a Malachite Kingfisher here.

Finally the Team photo at 2000m in the Normandien Pass, not far from where we caught the Secretary Bird.

 This and the previous post about our experience with Raptors give an insight into our 2 weeks in South Africa. Many thanks to Malcolm Wilson  (African Affinity)

(Photos - contributions from all, especially Andrew)

Saturday 23 March 2019

South Africa 2019 Part 1 - Raptors

Wendy, Alison, Andrew and myself of the Group were joined by Ian Beggs and Mike Polling on a trip to South Africa for 2 weeks this February / March. The plan was to ring at 5 sites in the general area of NE South Africa with Malcolm Wilson of African Affinity.

Starting at Johannesburg we headed up to the Limpopo valley and the Botswana / Zimbabwe border. We then skirted the Kruger before heading south to the Highveld plains. We birded and ringed at the 5 sites and trapped raptors whilst travelling between sites too.
This first post covers the raptor experiences, a second post will cover some of  the 51 species of non - raptors ringed plus other activities including mammal watching.

Raptors are always a highlight of a trip to South Africa and here is a list of the species we ringed on this trip...

Whilst in South Africa we are able to catch birds with a variety of traps using live bait, generally mice in Bal Chatri or Spring Traps. We colour ringed 2 species Steppe Buzzards and a Brown Snake Eagle

Ian holding the Brown Snake Eagle with Malcolm fitting the colour- ring.

These are the legs of a Pale-chanting Goshawk given to Malcolm by a farmer after it hit a fence. It had been ringed 18 years ago and retrapped 3 times all at the same site originally ringed by the Pretoria Ringing Group.

Steppe Buzzard re-sightings are regularly received, Ian managed to take a photo of one that Malcolm had ringed in January 2018 in exactly the same place. A great record of a sight faithful wintering bird.

Steppe Buzzards have very variable plumage, this was a particularly sandy one.

Now follows a selection of the other species of raptor ringed

Black-shouldered Kite, one of only two ringed.

Black-chested Snake Eagle, an amazing six birds ringed, adults as below

and this juvenile which we trapped in the Highveld grassland south of Johannesburg, further south than Malcolm had ever come across this species before.

5 Brown Snake Eagles were ringed too. This is one being weighed by Alison.

Several Dark and Pale Chanting Goshawks were ringed.

African Goshawk ringed at our Highveld farm at 1700m, actually caught in a mist net.

This is one of the nets showing the surrounding extensive green grasslands.


Lizard Buzzard

In the Highveld areas visited we came across small numbers of Jackal Buzzards but this juvenile was the only bird we ringed.

Moving up a scale from Hawks and Buzzards to Eagles....

This adult female Tawny Eagle weighed 2.4kg. Pictures of outspread wings are taken to record the wing moult, the main criteria in ageing large birds of prey.

Note the 3 moult waves in this wing of this adult eagle.

A 3rd year Wahlberg's Eagle was also caught in the Lowveld grasslands near the Kruger.

Every opportunity to educate is taken with impromptu ringing demonstrations to passers by about the importance of raptor ringing. On this occasion it was a group of trainee safari guides who were fascinated to hear about the work.

Four African Hawk Eagles were ringed including these two that were caught independently on two traps placed 20 metres apart, quick thinking by Malcolm and the team to have two traps ready to drop.

More quick thinking following a cunning plan....Secretary Bird !!
Over years of study Malcolm had decided that Secretary Birds when confronted by wire fences walked along them whilst hunting - much like waders do when presented with a baffle.
This Secretary Bird appeared near a fence as our vehicle drove over a rise, we drove past and dropped a trap c400m ahead near the fence, drove on and waited to observe. The bird did wander along the line of the fence and find the trap. After a little wing flapping the rare processing of a Secretary Bird.

The bird weighed 3.7kg, the thigh muscles were incredibly powerful.

The following Falcon species were also ringed - this an adult Greater Kestrel

Lesser Kestrel, we often found small groups of  Lesser Kestrels feeding with the far more numerous Amur Falcons, great roadside spectacles watching these flocks feeding on flying insects.

We only came across 1 migrant Peregrine, occasionally we found roadside Lanner Falcons of which we caught two, again note the different age flight feathers.

Newcastle, near our last base of the trip, has one of the largest Amur Falcon roosts in South Africa, right in the middle of the city

Here, Rina Pretorius has been conducting some great research into the Amur Falcon migration. The use of tagging devices has shown how these small falcons cross the Indian Ocean and most of India before their 1st stop - a non-stop 5 day/night flight.

It is worth watching The Incredible Journey of the Amur Falcon to see Rina at work in the second half of the video, using canopy nets and ringing the Amur Falcons,
We were fortunate that Malcolm had arranged for us to ring at the roost, an incredible experience. 14000 Amur Falcons coming in to roost, catching a small sample with a very high mist net and the findings of this research as discussed above.

Finally, a Red-crested Korhaan

This small Bustard was one of the amazing experiences in the next post which will follow our journey, the ringing sites, mammals and other birding and ringing highlights of this trip with Malcolm Wilson and African Affinity

Text by Rich and Wendy, photos by various trip members with a major contribution from Andrew.