01 September 2013 – more sea time

•September 29, 2013 • Leave a Comment

It’s that time of the year when lots of pelagic trips run and today saw another Zest for Birds pelagic trip departing with Trevor co-guiding with Peter Ryan, Alvin Cope and John Graham. The trip out into False Bay was fairly quiet, but we rounded Cape Point, we soon started encountering White-chinned Petrels and Sooty Shearwaters in reasonable numbers as well as a few Shy Albatrosses.

White-chinned Petrel

White-chinned Petrel

Sooty Shearwater

Sooty Shearwater

We continued south-westwards out towards the trawling grounds picking up a number of the regular species along the way as well as a wonderful Wandering Albatross, always a real highlight for the passengers… and the guides!

Wandering Albatross

Wandering Albatross

Approaching a trawler, we could see that there were lots of birds around but, only once we were right in behind it could we see the real numbers. Pintado Petrels were there in their thousands and it was quite a sight indeed – everyone was overwhelmed with the sheer volume of birds. Most of the other species we had already seen were also present in good numbers and it was particularly good to get some nice close up looks at Wilson’s Storm Petrels.

Approaching the trawler

Approaching the trawler

Lots of birds behind the trawler!

Lots of birds behind the trawler!

Pintado Petrel

Pintado Petrel

Wilson's Storm Petrel

Wilson’s Storm Petrel

Careful scanning through the immense flocks of birds eventually turned up a Northern Royal Albatross as well, our 6th albatross species for the day before we eventually had to turn for home. It was a very satisfied group of birders that eventually arrived back in Simonstown after another fantastic day at sea.

Northern Royal Albatross

Northern Royal Albatross

31 August 2013 – a new reptile for us

•September 29, 2013 • Leave a Comment

We had met up with Cliff and Suretha Dorse this morning to look for Sand Rain Frogs for a research study that we had been asked to assist with, but were unsuccessful in finding any. There had not really been enough rain over the last few days to get the animals active and calling, so we resorted to looking for a few reptiles in the area.

This was also not hugely successful although we did find a few Silvery Dwarf Burrowing Skinks, a couple of Cape Skinks, a Spotted Skaapsteker and a lovely young Cape Cobra. After lunch at a local restaurant, we headed off only to get a phone call from Cliff a little while later to let us know that they had found a Flowerpot Snake, a species we had never seen before! It’s not the most exciting looking reptile in the world and is also introduced to South Africa rather than being indigenous, but it was a chance to add a new species to our reptile list, so we screamed through anyway…:)

We spent a bit of time photographing the animal, but it has got to be one of the more difficult reptiles to actually get a decent photo of. It just doesn’t look like much more than an earthworm, so is not very photogenic at all. Nevertheless, a new species for us and another one for our challenge list, so it was still all smiles at the end of it…:)

Flowerpot Snake

Flowerpot Snake

24 – 25 August 2013 – of owls and pipits…

•September 29, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Trevor had been advised that he would be receiving an Owl Award from BirdLife South Africa at a function in Johannesburg on Saturday evening, so we travelled up to Gauteng late this morning. Owl Awards are presented to people who are thought to have done something beyond the normal call of duty to further the philosophy of BirdLife South Africa which it to promote the enjoyment of and conservation of birds and their habitats in South Africa, so it was quite an honour to be receiving this award.

After landing at OR Tambo International Airport and collecting our hire car, we made our way out to Muldersdrift where the function would be taking place and also where would be staying over. What we hadn’t really thought through was that, if we had flown to Lanseria Airport instead, we would have been right where we needed to be instead of having to drive all this way – sometimes, we make some silly mistakes…:)

We arrived at the Misty Hills Country Hotel late afternoon and booked into our accommodation before cleaning up and getting ready for the function. When we got together for the welcome drinks at around 5pm, it was great to see so many other familiar faces there, many of whom we had not seen in quite some time. The function was a great event and, with so many birding friends there, ended up in a lot of socialising as well which turned into a VERY late night! A great experience all round and thank you very much to BirdLife South Africa for the honour of this award.

Trevor receives the award from the President and Vice Chairman of BLSA

Trevor receives the award from the President and Vice Chairman of BLSA

Sunday was a late start and then a very relaxed breakfast with a bunch of friends who had stayed over at the hotel. When we eventually managed to pull ourselves away from there, we decided to head over to Krugersdorp Game Reserve about 20km away where we had been told that Striped Pipit was quite easy to see. Since we had never photographed this species before, we thought we would give it a try. After all, we were right there anyway…

It didn’t take long after arriving to locate the birds and eventually, we managed to get reasonably close to them. Unfortunately, because of our very late start, the light was already a bit harsh, so we will definitely try and get back there again in the future at a better time of day for photography, but it was good to at least be able to aim the camera at a new species for a change. Once done there and, after a late lunch at a local restaurant, we made our way back to the airport to begin the journey back home. Not the greatest biodiversity weekend in the world, but fantastic from a social point of view and, sometimes, that is also important…:)

Striped Pipit

Striped Pipit

Striped Pipit

Striped Pipit

18 August 2013 – an 8 albatross day!

•September 29, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Another Zest for Birds pelagic set out this morning, having been delayed a day due to the series of wild cold fronts that had been belting the Cape Peninsula. (Trevor was co-guiding with Barrie Rose, Alvin Cope and John Graham) We set off with some anticipation as the wind had dropped sufficiently overnight to allow the trip but was recent enough that we had hopes of finding birds still lingering that had been blown in from the deep south over the previous few days.

The trip through False Bay was in calm water, but already showed signs of the recent weather as we had White-chinned Petrel, Southern Giant Petrel, Subantarctic Skua and flocks of Sooty Shearwaters before even leaving the Bay. On rounding Cape Point, we were greeted by a moderately large swell that was still a bit bumpy from the recent wind, but with the promise that it would ease quickly in the light winded conditions we pressed on south-westwards.

We had an excellent movement of Sooty Shearwaters in the first few miles beyond Cape Point and quickly also added Shy Albatross. A late Antarctic Prion was a surprise and an unseasonal Great-winged Petrel added to the recent pattern of winter records of this species. While only partway through our voyage down to the trawling waters the shout of “Whiteback” went up and there to the east was a magnificent juv Southern Royal Albatross gliding gracefully down the face of a giant swell, clearly showing its distinctive white leading edge, white back and massive wingspan. The seemingly inquisitive bird passed close ahead of our bow and then proceeded to shadow us all the way to the trawling waters, remaining visible within 500m or so of us the whole while.

Southern Royal Albatross

Southern Royal Albatross

We spotted a couple of trawlers working in the vicinity of the Cape Canyon and as we approached the first, MV Forest Lily, we were bowled over by the vast numbers of birds feeding in her wake. Pintado Petrels were abundant, and were joined by large numbers of White-chinned Petrel, Wilson’s Storm Petrels and albatrosses. The Southern Royal Albatross crossed our bow yet again and while flying over the multitude of foraging birds joined up with a crisply marked Northern Royal Albatross and circled alongside its fellow visitor from New Zealand waters for a while, unfortunately remaining a little distant from the boat. An Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross added to the albatross tally for the morning, and Black-browed Albatrosses were only slightly outnumbered by the Shy Albatrosses scrapping over fish remains broken up on the surface by Cape Fur Seals.

Approaching the first trawler

Approaching the first trawler

Pintado Petrel

Pintado Petrel

Black-browed Albatross

Black-browed Albatross

Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross

Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross

At this stage the second trawler, MV Compass Challenger, had approached close to us and as she had a whole new gathering of seabirds brought in from the southeast we detoured over into her wake. An excellent dappled brown immature Wandering Albatross glided effortlessly past our port bow and disappeared into the melee, and while picking through the hundreds of albatrosses in search of this we found our seventh albatross for the day, an excellent adult Salvin’s Albatross, an extremely rare visitor to our waters. The search now of course switched to the Salvin’s, which we had lost sight of amongst the thousands of other birds before everyone had seen it adequately, and while searching we added another Northern Royal Albatross and a Stage 4 adult Wandering Albatross.

After adding a Soft-plumaged Petrel, Northern Giant Petrel and our eighth albatross of the day, an adult Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross, to the list we reluctantly set off homewards as we were running a little late. Our voyage homewards was punctuated by occasional great looks at Great-winged Petrels and further Giant Petrels.

Approaching the second trawler

Approaching the second trawler

Wandering Albatross

Wandering Albatross

Salvin's Albatross

Salvin’s Albatross

17 August 2013 – twitching madness…

•September 29, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Today was one of those mad days where we would be chasing regional rarities all around the province! We left home at around 4 am and drove just short of 400km to get to a place called Matjesvlei very near to Calitzdorp in the Little Karoo. The reason for this was that there had been reports recently of a small group of White-fronted Bee-eaters, a species that we still needed to photograph for our challenge and a rather rare bird in the province as well as a single Common Scimitarbill, a full Western Cape lifer for us, from this area.

Arriving there just after 8am, we set about trying to find the birds. It didn’t take too long before we found the Bee-eaters, but a little longer to get a photo of one of them. Surprisingly, we saw at least 8 of these birds there and they seemed to be possibly breeding in one of the sand banks along the river. Given that the closest known population is near Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape, some 500km east of here, this was a pretty weird record.

White-fronted Bee-eater

White-fronted Bee-eater

We then set about trying to find the Common Scimitarbill. We walked for a long time not finding anything until, eventually, Trevor caught a glimpse of it across the river. It then took quite a bit longer before we saw it again but, by 10:30am, we were starting to get a little concerned that we hadn’t had even vaguely decent views of it yet let alone any photos. One last attempt and we finally found it sitting up and we were able to get a few record shots before it disappeared off again. Another great Western Cape bird in the bag…!

Common Scimitarbill

Common Scimitarbill

We then climbed into the car again and began our next drive, this time to Sedgefield about 200km away, where we hoped to catch up with a Red-capped Robin-chat that had been located there recently. This was a first record for the Western Cape province and one we definitely wanted to see. Arriving at the site, a residential garden in Sedgefield, it took us all of about a minute before we caught our first glimpse of the bird. Success! However, trying to get a photo of it was a completely different story and we spent quite some time before managing to get a few record shots.

After a quick lunch at a local take-away, we then began the long drive back home (just over 500km) feeling very satisfied that we had connected with all of our targets on this mad day. Sometimes, these odd things just need to be done…:)

Red-capped Robin-chat

Red-capped Robin-chat

04 August 2013 – back out to sea

•September 29, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Trevor was once again a guide on a Zest for Birds pelagic trip today (co-guiding with John Graham and Alvin Cope). The trip out into False Bay was calm and also fairly quiet delivering just a few Cape Gannets and White-chinned Petrels, but once we rounded Cape Point, we started encountering our first Sooty Shearwaters and a little later, our first Shy Albatrosses of the trip. Not too far offshore, we also came upon a small pod of Humpback Whales, one of the animals showing a somewhat odd back with very little dorsal fin.

Shy Albatross

Shy Albatross

Humpback Whale

Humpback Whale

We headed further out into the deep picking up regular birds along the way until we came across a couple of Longliners. Although not quite as impressive as trawlers in terms of the number of birds they attract, there were still good numbers around and we were soon picking out a number of the more regular species like Southern Giant Petrel, Pintado Petrel and Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross. We also got a little bit of a surprise with an aberrant White-chinned Petrel which showed white up on to its crown. Initially, from a distance, we thought it might have been a Spectacled Petrel but, as it came closer, we could soon see that it wasn’t one.

Approaching the longliner

Approaching the longliner

Southern Giant Petrel

Southern Giant Petrel

Pintado Petrel

Pintado Petrel

Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross

Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross

Aberrant White-chinned Petrel

Aberrant White-chinned Petrel

Careful scanning through all the birds eventually turned up the highlight of the day, a lovely Northern Royal Albatross and our only rarity of the trip. The trip back to shore was uneventful in terms of adding new species to the list, but it was a satisfied bunch of birders that disembarked back at Simon’s Town after another great day at sea.

Northern Royal Albatross

Northern Royal Albatross

03 August 2013 – no cat spotted…

•September 29, 2013 • Leave a Comment

With the second sighting of a Leopard at Rooiels in a couple of months, we decided that this would be a worthwhile spot to visit for a morning, so we took a leisurely drive out there this morning to see what we could find.

The walk along the mountainside was great and there was virtually no wind to speak of which made the birding and photography a little better. We spent a few hours in the area constantly scanning the mountainside in the hope that we might catch a glimpse of the spotted cat, but our poor luck with a Western Cape Leopard was destined to continue as we came away empty-handed. Nevertheless, we still connected with a number of the expected species in the area and some of them even posed for a photo or two.

It was once again reinforced that, if we ever do get to see a Leopard in the province, it is going to be because we just luckily bumped into it rather than us actually going to search for one…

Familiar Chat

Familiar Chat

Orange-breasted Sunbird

Orange-breasted Sunbird

Cape Siskin

Cape Siskin

Cape Rock Thrush

Cape Rock Thrush

Cape Rockjumper

Cape Rockjumper

 
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