Image

30th January 2020 – Franschhoeke, Western Cape SA

Well as this is my nature blog I’m going to allow myself a little licence to show some of the natural surroundings of Franschhoeke in the Western Cape of South Africa. Not a bird in sight.

It is very different from the Klein Karoo or even the Robertson wine region where we were before. A really stunning part of the world.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Image

28th January 2020 – Robertson, Western Cape

I didn’t expect our stay at the Excelsior Estate Winery at Robertson to provide such good opportunities for bird photography. On the first evening we walked down to the river amongst the vines and saw weavers and southern red bishop birds. The following day we were able to use a golf trolley and venture further into and around the vineyard. The advantages of the golf trolley was that the birds weren’t so nervous about our presence.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The stars for me were the bigger birds we saw, an African darter, a black-headed heron and a buzzard and the smallest, the southern double collared sunbird.

 

DSC08523

DSC08530African darter

DSC08618

DSC08619Buzzard

DSC03896

DSC03898Black-headed heron

DSC08660Cape bulbul

Image

26th January 2020 – The Swartberg Pass

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As we were due to be up very early for a meerkat safari (which didn’t happen because of rain) we didn’t take up the option of the ostrich farm tour. We had a leisurely day exploring the Swartberg Pass and the area around the Cango Caves.

Stunning scenery again.

DSC06612

DSC06601

DSC06598

We spent quite some time watching the southern masked weavers “weaving” their nests and came across the southern red bishop for the first time. I gather it is quite a common bird but it is the first time we had seen it and it is quite stunning.

DSC06980Southern masked weaver

DSC07097Southern red bishop

DSC07113White-breasted cormorant

 

DSC06240

DSC06595Greater striped swallow

DSC06271Willow warbler (?) in the garden

 

 

 

 

 

Image

25th January 2020 – Oudtshoorn

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As we had had quite a long and tiring journey from Knysna to Oudtshoorn we just relaxed in the afternoon in the gardens of the farm where we were staying. Oudtshoorn is the ostrich capital of the world and we were staying on an ostrich farm.

DSC06034The view across the farm to the local church.

As the ostrich is the biggest bird it is appropriate that I have it as my header photo, although I much preferred the weavers and the common fiscals.

DSC06074

DSC06100

 

 

 

Image

27th January 2020 – Oudtshoorn – meerkats

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The main focus of our stay in Oudtshoorn was  a morning “safari” to see meerkats in the Klein Karoo. However, when we got up at 4.30 am  it was raining and we had been warned that the trip would not go ahead in the rain as the meerkats would not come out to play.

Fortunately we were able to re-arrange another visit on the morning we were leaving Oudtshoorn and the weather was fine.

The vegetation in this part of the world was very different from Kruger but quite impressive at this time of the morning with the backdrop of the Swartberg and the Outeniqua Mountains. I must say that, as in Kruger, much of the time I had great difficulty getting the white balance correct in my photos especially with the morning and evening light. 

DSC07350

DSC07353

Before we got to see the meerkats (we had to search for them as they move from burrow to burrow) we only saw antelope. In this part of the world they have Southern Eland, Greater Kudu and Common Duiker (the smallest).

DSC07354

DSC07397

DSC07408

DSC07425

DSC07436

DSC07475Common duiker

DSC07485Greater Kudu (with the big ears)

DSC07513

DSC07535

There was a family of seven meerkats. It’s a matriarchal society and it seemed that 2 of the meerkats were pregnant and our guide assured us that this was going to cause some fuss in this group.

DSC07585

DSC07596

DSC07606

DSC07618

DSC07638

DSC07641

DSC07652

DSC07659

DSC07664

DSC07689

DSC07706

DSC07756

DSC07757

DSC07772

DSC07928

We saw a few birds on our trip. The first was a house sparrow! There were quite a few Egyptian geese,  southern-masked weavers, a couple of southern black korhaan and the ubiquitous common fiscal.

DSC07381House sparrow

DSC07459Southern-masked weaver

DSC07548Southern black korhaan

DSC07683egyptian goose

DSC07993Common fiscal (the butcher bird)

Image

16th – 19th January 2020 – Thornybush Private Game Reserve, South Africa – birds

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Clearly the main focus of the 6 games drives we did in the Thornybush Game Reserve was the animals. However, we had a fantastic opportunity to see a large number of birds too. I felt I probably tested the patience of our fellow tourists by me wanting to stop to see birds; but they were very tolerant and even helped to spot birds and point them out to me. Our guides were very good too and incredibly knowledgeable. They nearly always knew the names of the birds – the problem of identification has been my lack of memory.

However, with the help of my field guide (Newman’s) and the knowledge and great cooperation of Larry Swetman (back in Bristol) I have been able to identify most of them.

Labelling is a job for back home.

The slideshow is a selection of the photos I took (the slideshow can be pinched out on an iPad for optimum viewing).

Listed below are some of my favourite birds.

Probably the rarest bird we saw was the bronze-winged courser (certainly by the reaction of our guide Kilmore) especially as it is usually nocturnal.

DSC04357Bronze winged courser

The most exciting bird was the dark chanting goshawk which we saw swoop down on its prey and took it off to a nearby branch so that we were able to see it rip its prey apart and devour it.

DSC05241Dark chanting goshawk

The most startling was probably the southern yellow-billed hornbill – there were hornbills everywhere.

DSC00464Southern-yellow billed hornbill

The largest raptor was probably one of the vultures but I particularly liked the tawny eagle.

DSC03676Tawny eagle

There were lots of very colourful birds but I wasn’t always able to catch them in their full splendour because of the rain and cloudy conditions which prevailed for the last few days. A few of the contenders

DSC04850Woodland kingfisher

DSC03910Crested barbet

DSC02894Blue waxbill

The most fascinating bird for me was the long-tailed paradise whydah .

DSC04958Long-tailed paradise whydah

We saw quite a lot of shrikes and I liked this photo of a red-backed bush shrike which I photographed in the rain.

DSC04826Red-backed shrike

We saw oxpeckers mainly on buffalos but I love this photo of one on a giraffe.

DSC05028

I could go on …

We saw lots of other birds that I didn’t manage to photograph. I suppose I was disappointed most not to capture some of the cuckoos.

 

 

 

Image

23rd January 2020 – Knysna

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We had planned a trip up the River Kromme at St Francis Bay as we made our way along the Garden Route from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town but the weather was so bad that it was cancelled (too wet and windy) and our first opportunity to get out and see some birds was on our second day in Knysna (yes it has stopped raining but it still isn’t very warm).

We walked along the edge of the Woodbourne Trust Nature Reserve and Bird Sanctuary near The Heads (which feature in nearly all the tourist photos of Knysna).

It was like home from home to start as the first bird we saw was a grey heron but it soon became a bit more exotic with African sacred ibis and Egyptian geese.

From the edge of the reserve we could easily see avocets, black winged stilts, Blacksmith lapwings and common greenshank but the real treat was an African spoonbill which flew out and then back over our heads. We rewarded ourselves with lunch.

DSC05583Reed cormorant (I think)

DSC05871Little egret

DSC05841African sacred ibis

DSC05821Egyptian geese

DSC05800Common greenshank and black-winged stilts

DSC05785Common greenshank

DSC05548Blacksmith lapwing

DSC05439Avocet

DSC05359African spoonbill on its way out

DSC05820and on its way back

 

 

 

 

 

Image

16th  – 19th January 2020 – Thornybush Private Game Reserve, South Africa

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Our trip to South Africa certainly got off to a fantastic start. We spent the first 3 nights at Chapungu, a luxury tented lodge, on the Thornybush Game Reserve in Greater Kruger.

We were quite apprehensive about the 28 hour journey from Bristol to Chapungu (via London Heathrow, Johannesburg and Hoedspruit) and quite concerned that we might not have the stamina for 6 game drives in three days with 5 am starts but either the adrenaline or the “sundowners”  with the beautiful backdrop of the Drakensburg Mountains) enabled us to cope quite well.

DSC03320

However, I didn’t count on the logistics of taking so many photos, saving them, editing a few and backing them all up which has been very onerous. Ah well, I enjoy it really.

The cloudy weather on a couple of the drives and even rain on the last day probably also  helped us to cope but didn’t do much for my later photos.

Initially I thought that I would revisit this blog at a later stage and write about the narrative of each of the 6 game drives but, unless we have a really bad run of weather when we return to the UK, I am realistic enough to know that that is improbable and that I shall enjoy more editing additional photos, remembering what was what and adding captions. However, I couldn’t fail to mention the excitement of seeing the leopard family with their kill in the marula tree, the lions protecting their kill, the hyenas and the vultures waiting to scavenge for their shares, or the goshawk which we saw stoop, make off with its prey and devour it in a nearby tree.

DSC02932Another memorable moment when we got stuck in the river bed – just to let me see even more birds!

I have already prepared a very large number of photos in a slideshow but can’t imagine anyone sitting for long enough to watch all of them so will have to rethink how I am going to do that. I will probably post in a later blog when I have more band width.

For the moment I will settle for a more modest slideshow of some of my favourite photos (above – the slideshow can be pinched out to fit a tablet).

We would like to say a very big thank you to the interesting young tourists from around the world who were with us throughout the three days and who added a different dimension to our trip by sharing with us some of their “world”. Also I would like to mention the staff of Chapungu Lodge who were excellent in every way. Finally we can’t say enough about our guides, Jacques, Kilmore and Victor, who went to enormous trouble to take us to amazing places, got us so close to the animals and showed us with such enthusiasm and knowledge the variety of the incredible wildlife of South Africa.

A truly memorable trip.

The “Big Five:

In Africa, the Big Five game animals are the lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and Cape buffalo. The term was coined by big-game hunters, and refers to the five most difficult animals in Africa to hunt on foot, but is now also widely used by safari tour operators.

DSC09788Leopard

DSC04538Black rhino (the horns are removed to deter poachers)

 

DSC04046Elephant

DSC02965Buffalo

DSC02579Lion

 

Image

3rd January 2020 – WWT Slimbridge

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

For our first bird watching sortie of the new year we had another visit to Slimbridge. However, with two young ones in tow we only had limited time for bird watching before their attention waned.

The highlight again was the water rails as normally they are quite elusive but today in one spot we saw three. There was a marsh harrier in the distance towards the estuary and pink footed geese (no photo).

DSC08947Marsh harrier in the distance

DSC09083

DSC09081

DSC08974Water rails

I’m not too sure about my identification of Bewick’s/whooper swans but I think the first below is whooper and the second Bewick’s.

DSC08838

DSC08841

DSC08872

DSC08880

DSC08890Wigeon

DSC08894Teal

DSC08847Robin

DSC08864Robin

DSC08892Chaffinch

DSC08900Blue tit

DSC08982Blue tit

DSC09069

DSC09047Pheasant – such wonderful colours

DSC08940Redshank add a bit of colour on a muddy bank

DSC08957Shelduck in flight

DSC08934Shelduck

DSC08840Little egret in the distance