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2011-10-10

South Africa (ZA)   A week at Ngwenya Lodge, Southern Kruger National Park  -  Categories: South Africa  -  @ 04:48:12 pm

Winter Birding - Ngwenya Lodge, Mpumalanga - 13 to 19 August 2011

After a hectic first half of the year, nothing like a break in the African bush to re-charge your soul. This year, we spent a week at our timeshare in Ngwenya Lodge (http://www.ngwenya.co.za/NGW/ngw.htm), situated on the southern boundary of the Kruger National Park, with our Unit overlooking the Crocodile River - bliss! Images by Mike Pope


13 AUG 2011
We had a comfortable drive from Johannesburg to Ngwenya dropping down from the chilly highveld into the more temperate loweveld in and around Komatiepoort. During the check-in formalities, I found a Spotted Flycatcher which appears to have over-wintered as these species are only now migrating through Kuwait.

Spotted Flycatcher

Foraging around the bottom of a shrub, was the normally shy Green-backed Camaroptera.

Green-backed Camaroptera

After unpacking the car and getting sorted in our Unit we relaxed over lunch and later in the afternoon had a stroll around the Lodge gardens finding a few old 'friends' like Dark-capped Bulbul

Dark-capped Bulbul

Lesser Masked Weaver, still in winter or non-breeding plumage - although I did observe some nest building action

Lesser Masked Weaver

Although I was rusty on some calls, that of the African Green Pigeon was instantly recognisable

African Green Pigeon

At the small lake near the restaurant, a White-breasted Cormorant was seen

White-breasted Cormorant

Looking out over the Crocodile River at the restaurant, a Nile Crocodile was catching the last rays of the day

Nile Crocodile

As we got to our Unit, a small flock of Red Helmet Shrikes made a brief appearance

Red Helmet Shrike

14 AUG 2011
As the weather was great, we decided to spend the first day enjoying the Lodge and relaxing on our balconey overlooking the Crocodile River and we were rewarded with a great Lion sighting soon after waking up as a small pride wandered aloing the river bank

Male Lion

Birds that were flying up and down the river included; White-breasted Cormorant

White-breasted Cormorant

The smaller Reed Cormorant

Reed Cormorant

and many Egyptian Geese

Egyptian Goose

in the thermals above the river, we had juvenile African Fish Eagle calling

African Fish Eagle

in the scrub in and around our unit, I found a foraging Speckled Mousebird

Speckled Mousebird

the smart looking Spectacled Weaver

Spectacled Weaver

and a tatty looking Cape Weaver in transition plumage

Cape Weaver

and an African Mourning Dove which is not normally found this far south in the Kruger Park

African Mourning Dove

after a lazy breakfast my son Jaden and I went for a walk around the grounds, finding a secretive Tambourine Dove

Tambourine Dove

and an Ashy Flycatcher

Ashy Flycatcher

a stunning male Collared Sunbird was quite obliging in the coolness of the morning, not quite as much when the temperatures pick up later in the day

Collared Sunbird

Collared Sunbird

at this time of year, many of the Aloe's are in flower and many species of birds were seen feeding on the flowering blooms. The yellow of the flowers rubbing off on the feathers of their heads - here a Dark-capped Bulbul enjoying the nectar from the Aloe

Dark-capped Bulbul

at the small dam near the restaurant, an African Darter was sunning itself on the dead tree

African Darter

I had found a Water Monitor late yesterday that Jaden really wanted to see. At this time of the morning it was still sunning itself on the bank of the small dam and Jaden got up close and personal

Water Monitor

Water Monitor

on the way back to our Unit, Jaden spotted a Kurrichane Thrush at the base of an acacia tree

Kurrichane Thrush

2011-09-20

South Africa (ZA)   Zaagkuildrift and Seringveld  -  Categories: South Africa  -  @ 01:09:10 pm

Winter Birding - Zaagkuidrift and Seringveld, Gauteng - August 2011

Whilst on our break in South Africa, I had arranged to meet up with my good friend Simon Price who I had met in Kuwait, but had since re-located back to South Africa. We spent a productive and enjoyable morning together and chose the Zaagkuildrfit to Kgomo-Kgomo route north of Pretoria - in my opinion, one of the best birding roads in Gauteng. Images by Mike Pope


We were at the start of the route, not too long after sun-up and spent some quality time at one of the small pans. There was definitely a feeling of Spring in the air, with early buds showing on trees and birds actively starting to show breeding behaviour. Walking slowly through the bush, we came across a rather obliging Southern Boubou

Southern Boubou

Southern Boubou

With a Rattling Cisticola calling nearby

Rattling Cisticola

moving slowly toward the edge of the pan, we observed African Jacana's as they foraged on the floating vegetation - easily done with those extremely long toes

African Jacana

African Jacana

African Jacana

A few duck species were seen on the dam, but only this flock of Red-billed Teals came close enough for a photograph

Red-billed Teal

Red-billed Teal

A single White-winged Tern was also observed hawking over the water

White-winged Tern

Walking back to the car, we flushed a Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler

Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler

Driving westward along the dirt road with frequent stops also produced Crimson Boubou; a really striking bird in the drab winter bush with a call to match it's appearance

Crimson Boubou

a couple of Kalahari Scrub Robins

Kalahari Scrub Robin

and a pair of Marsh Owls flying back to find a roost for the day

Marsh Owl

Some Waxbills were seen foraging on the edge of the road, one of them this female Violet-eared Waxbill. Unfortunately the spectacular male didnt stay long enough for his picture

Violet-eared Waxbill

Just before the Kgomo-Kgomo floodplain (still dry at this time of year), we finally managed to get onto a Magpie Shrike that didnt fly off when we stopped

Magpie Shrike

Magpie Shrike

On and around the floodplain we ticked, African Pipit

African Pipit

a striking Capped Wheatear, which normally disappear after winter

Capped Wheatear

Kitlitz Plover

Kitlitz Plover

Lilac-breasted Roller, probably one of the most photographed birds in the Kruger National Park

Lilac-breasted Roller

and an Ovambo Sparrowhawk that had stopped for a drink

Ovambo Sparrowhawk

Viewing the floodplain from the bridge produced White-throated Swallow

White-throated Swallow

As it happens in birding, time does get away from you so we drove slowly eastward back to the main road, finding a wing-tagged Cape Vulture that was being harrassed by a flock of Pied Crows

Cape Vulture

Cape Vulture

On the way back to Midrand, we decided to stop at the Seringveld, a unique broad-leave woodland habitat on the outskirts of Pretoria that holds some key species. Unfortunately, we were only able to find one of them (perhaps a little too early in the season for the others) - but Green-capped Eremomela is still a good bird, albeit a very busy bird gleening quickly through the foliage. After exhausting this patch, we reluctantly headed back and I truly appreciated the variety, calls and numbers seen this morning, in comparison to the barreness of Kuwait

Green-capped Eremomela

Green-capped Eremomela

Green-capped Eremomela

2011-09-15

South Africa (ZA)   Summer to Winter break in South Africa  -  Categories: South Africa  -  @ 03:34:07 pm

A few weeks of winter in South Africa - Midrand, Gauteng - August 2011

After the draining and exhaustive summer heat of Kuwait, the cold Highveld winter of Gauteng was more than a welcome relief for our summer break. Birds in this post are the more common urban birds during winter and were taken in the garden and whilst walking our Staffies with my Son, Jaden. Images by Mike Pope


Karoo Thrush are very common in the garden in early morning and late afternoon - also when we feed our dogs where they wait on the fringes for the dogs to finish eating

Karoo Thrush

Cape Robin-chat is another garden skulker that also sings from cover, but this individual was not very obliging for photographs

Cape Robin-chat

The male Cape Sparrow is quite a stiking bird, but generally overlooked as it is very common

Cape Sparrow

At this time of year (late Winter/early Spring), Southern Masked Weavers are mostly in full breeding regalia and have started nest building

Southern Masked Weaver

Southern Masked Weaver

Walking the dogs outside of our townhouse complex provided a little more variety. Streaky-headed Seedeaters calling from the treetops

Streaky-headed Seedeater

Small flocks on winter plumaged Southern Red Bishops

Cape Sparrow

The aggressive Fiscal Shrike

Fiscal Shrike

and the very similar looking Fiscal Flycatcher, but these are normally seen in pairs and are much more delicate in build

Fiscal Flycatcher

Not quite as urbanised as the Red-eyed Dove, but the odd Cape Turtle Dove was seen foraging on the pavements

Cape Turtle Dove

Crowned Lapwings were also seen on the pavements and are generally quite oblivious to the passing cars

Crowned Lapwing

A few Cape Glossy Starlings were seen infrequently

Cape Glossy Starling

Some of the larger trees on the pavement were started to bud with the advent of Spring and many Cape White-eyes were seen foraging in these trees

Cape White-eye

Together with the dimunitive Black-throated Canaries

Black-throated Canary

Black-throated Canary

During a few late afternoons I sat on the upstairs patio and still had some enoyable birding - especially enjoying the calls, which we dont often hear in Kuwait. A male Laughing Dove calling from a rooftop

Laughing Dove

As well as the larger male Red-eyed Dove calling from a different rooftop

Red-eyed Dove

Here a Crested Barbet in the dying sunlight

Crested Barbet

An African Sacred Ibis flying to it's overnight roost

African Sacred Ibis

And not too much later, the magnificent splendour of another winter African sunset - I am a sucker for sunsets and never get tired photographing them

Southern African Sunset

2011-07-30

South Africa (ZA)   Two and a half days in Texas - Part 2  -  Categories: USA  -  @ 04:39:08 pm

Bear Creek, Paul Rushing Park, Katy Prairie, Warren Ranch Lake, Kleb Woods and W G Jones State Forest - Houston, Texas - 03 July 2011

Glen had prior committments and was unable to guide me today. However, he had arranged that Greg Page also a very knowledgable local birder guide me for the last day and this worked out really well. Greg was great company, had a good ear for calls and had stakeouts for some of my target birds. Images by Mike Pope


Again a pre-sunrise pickup as we headed to our first stop pretty close to the hotel called Bear Creek (no bears in this park though?). Driving to the parking area, we briefly saw a Possum - we turned round to photograph it and it had disappeared. As we we were back into forest, I had to use flash. First bird up was an Acadian Flycatcher carrying food - so it had young nearby

Acadian Flycatcher

Another Carolina Wren

Carolina Wren

Followed by an elusive White-eyed Vireo

White-eyed Vireo

and then the male Summer Tanager, which really stood out in the green foliage

Summer Tanager

We managed to entice a calling Barred Owl to show itself, but before I could get my camera up it was mobbed by American Crows and retreated. I was more fortunate with a first year Cooper's Hawk

Cooper's Hawk

An Orb Spiders web backlit by the morning sun and the front side showing it preparing it's breakfast

Orb Spider

Orb Spider

On the way into the trail, there was a park sign warning visitors of the snakes in this park, particulary the venomous Cottonmouth. So not easy to do canopy birding whilst watching where you put your feet. Fortunately, I spotted this non-venomous Broad-banded Water Snake before it saw me

Broad-banded Water Snake

By now the light had improved and we checked some of the more open parks - finding Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

A calling Pine Warbler took some time to locate high in one of the tall pines

Pine Warbler

A few more Summer Tanagers - a male in transition and a female

Summer Tanager

Summer Tanager

Brown-headed Cowbird

Brown-headed Cowbird

and a bird we had looked for earlier - Great Crested Flycatcher

Great Crested Flycatcher

back at the car before leaving, we had a juvenile Tufted Titmouse wrestling with a rather large grasshopper

Tufted Titmouse

We headed to Paul Rushing Park - an open area with walkways and large ponds where a Black-necked Stilt was feeding in the shallows

Black-necked Stilt

We noted two Semipalmated Sandpipers on the banks of the pond - early autumn arrivals

Semipalmated Sandpiper

Paul Rushing Park is the location for Cave Swallow which nest underneath the raised walkways. This species is very similar to the Cliff Swallow seen on Friday

Cave Swallow

Cave Swallow

An Eastern Meadowlark trying to seek shelter from the heat of the sun which also had us wilting a little

Eastern Meadowlark

In amongst the lilies, we picked out a diminutive Pied-billed Grebe

Pied-billed Grebe

I had been a bit crisped by the sun when we departed for Greg's stake out at Herbert Road, Katy Prairie. Even in less than ideal light conditions, the male Painted Bunting certainly does it's name justice

Painted Bunting

Painted Bunting

Painted Bunting

Driving out of Katy Prarie we had a Red-tailed Hawk fly by - not the White-tailed we were looking for. For the White-tailed we needed to have been in this area much earlier in the morning - always a toss up of where to go first

Red-tailed Hawk

Next stop was Warren Ranch Viewing Platform that overlooked a large pan where a scope was required. No new birds here, but we did find a Killdeer nesting almost in the middle of the parking area

Killdeer

As time was passing, we grabbed a McDonalds and headed Kleb Woods - the only site close to Houston where Roadrunner had been recorded. Unfortunately for us we had no luck (wrong time of day and year), so we drove to our final site - W G Jones State Forest. This is THE site for endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker, the only north american woodpecker that excavates it's cavity in living Pine Trees

W G Jones

Walking slowly though the open forest, we located Brown-headed Nuthatch

Brown-headed Nuthatch

Brown-headed Nuthatch

We heard Pileated Woodpecker and then saw a pair of Red-headed Woodpeckers

Red-headed Woodpecker

followed by a tatty looking Indigo Bunting. In breeding plumage, the male is a spectacular bird

Indigo Bunting

Although it was feeding young a week ago, we did not find the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker which is at the southern limit of its range at WG Jones. Time was up and Greg dropped me off at the airport, where I had to freshen up and change in the mens washroom before checking in. I had a great 2.5 days birding with Glen and Greg, saw most of the prime birding sites and with a 110 birds I was pretty pleased given that I had missed migration and breeding season. As always, there are birds missed and the iconic Roadrunner will be high on my list when I next visit Texas.

Red-cockaded Woodpecker

2011-07-29

South Africa (ZA)   Two and a half days in Texas - Part 1  -  Categories: USA  -  @ 09:41:19 pm

Anahuac National Wildlife Reserve, High Island, Bolivar Peninsula and Galveston - Houston, Texas - 02 July 2011

I was ready and waiting in the hotel lobby when Glen arrived just after sun up. Glen had planned a trip to the coast with a few stops on route. However, this was the 4th of July weekend which meant more people than usual at some of the coastal stops, so some species would be absent. Images by Mike Pope


On route to Anahuac, Glen made a stop at a backup site for a bird that I might miss the following day. It was a good site, with some forest and pines and gave us Blue Jay

Blue Jay

After Kuwait's desert birds it was great to have birds with colour and an Eastern Bluebird didnt disappoint in that department

Eastern Bluebird

We were lucky to see a pair of Inca Doves, a species that used to be much more abundant but has been displaced by the arrival of White-winged Doves

Inca Dove

Finally the bird we had made this stop for, showed itself and is the best looking Woodpecker I saw in Houston - the stunning Red-headed Woodpecker

Red-headed Woodpecker

Just before Anahuac, we stopped at a farm alongside the road where we had a Common Nighthawk overhead - very distinctive in flight with the white wing windows

Common Nighthawk

Good numbers of Red-winged Blackbird - males and females

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird

An Eastern Kingbird on autumn passage

Eastern Kingbird

A displaying male Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

and a less impressive female Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

Over the fields in the distance, a Fulvous Whistling Duck

Fulvous Whistling Duck

and a White-faced Ibis

White-faced Ibis

Finally we reached Anahuac where water levels were really low, as Texas was experiencing a really bad drought and this affected bird numbers. Driving slowly around this big wildlife refuge we added some new birds - Greater Yellowlegs

Greater Yellowlegs

Glen was thrilled with an unexpected and the more difficult to find King Rail along the dried out and exposed canal bank

King Rail

King Rail

At one stop, the Black-necked Stilts were very vocal flying around us, as they had some young nearby

Black-necked Stilt

Black-necked Stilt

Anahuac is the place to find Seaside Sparrow and we worked hard to find a bird that sat up long enough for a photograph

Seaside Sparrow

Seaside Sparrow

by now it was time to push on to the next location and on the way out we added a bird with a very strange name - Dickcissel

Dickcissel

and many more Common Nighthawks roosting on the fence

Common Nighthawk

Common Nighthawk

our next stop was the legendary migration site called High Island not very far from the Gulf of Mexico coastline. It has good habitat and since it is elevated is a natural stop for many passage migrants, which I had unfortunately missed by a few weeks. I donated my fair share of blood to the local mosquitoes before we could coat ourselves in insect repellant - not easy in the heat and high humidity. However High Islant is also a breeding area for Herons, Egrets and Spoonbills. We found Snowy Egret feeding a ravenous brood

Snowy Egret

and another trying to shelter it's young from the intense heat

Snowy Egret

a Neotropic Cormorant coming in to land

Neotropic Cormorant

Tricoloured Heron also had young that werent going to win any baby beauty contest just yet

Tricoloured Heron

Look at the colours on this Tricoloured Heron when it catches the light

Tricoloured Heron

However, the main attraction are the powdery pink Roseatte Spoonbills - not ideal light at noon, but not much I could do about that

Roseatte Spoonbill

A few pairs still had young birds

Roseatte Spoonbill

Roseatte Spoonbill

As we had yesterday, another Wood Stork came drifting in

Wood Stork

Walking to another pan, we flushed a Black Vulture

Black Vulture

Black Vulture

Leaving High Island we stopped for a flock of Purple Martins on the overhead lines

Purple Martin

We then headed to Bolivar Peninsula on the Gulf of Mexico, stopping at a few sites. However, the numbers of beach visitors did restrict bird numbers to some degree. We found a Horned Lark perched atop a fence.

Horned Lark

Glen found a site, that although was very busy the birds seemed pretty tolerant and we added many coastal species to the days list. Laughing Gulls were the most numerous

Laughing Gull

A Forsters Tern roosting in the shallows

Forsters Tern

A few larger Royal Terns flew by

Royal Tern

A Magnificent Frigatebird was an unexpected bonus for me, even though it never quite came close enough

Magnificent Frigatebird

Many Brown Pelicans

Brown Pelican

A few Willet flying by and feeding in the shallows

Willet

Willet

And a small flock of Marbled Godwits came in to feed

Marbled Godwit

The Black Skimmers never did come close, but I caught this flying past a Wilsons Plover

Black Skimmer and Wilsons Plover

We found the white morph Reddish Egret

White morph Reddish Egret

as well as the proper Reddish Egret - also a good looking Egret

Reddish Egret

We left this beach site to explore another pond that had some cover and short reeds. We stopped to look at another Reddish Egret

Reddish Egret

and got a bonus in the form a Clapper Rail, the bird we had expected to see at Anahuac

Clapper Rail

Clapper Rail

and another Marbled Godwit

Marbled Godwit

after a quick bite to eat, we headed to the ferry for the crossing to Galveston, finding a Mottled Duck. The heat haze and humidity playing havoc with my camera's autofocus

Mottled Duck

waiting for the ferry to depart, gave the opportunity for closer views of Laughing Gull

Laughing Gull

as well as roosting and preening Brown Pelicans

Brown Pelican

Brown Pelican

once underway, a few birds flew alongside the ferry for most of the crossing - another Royal Tern

Royal Tern

a Sandwich Tern

Sandwich Tern

coming in to dock, a few of the smaller Black Terns

Black Tern

and more Laughing Gulls dwarfed against a giant containership leaving Galveston

Laughing Gull

We explored some coastal dunes on the Galveston side and found a Northern Harrier

Northern Harrier

and finally a flock of Short-billed Dowitchers before we called it a day and headed back to my hotel in Houston

Short-billed Dowitcher

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