16 November 2022

The Mad Cuckoo Twitch

16 October 2022 - Kraanspoort Holiday Village

A rare bird alert went out 2-days ago for the 25th Madagascar Cuckoo for the sub region at Kraanspoort, close to Loskop Dam. For me, this was a lot closer than the individual recorded at Soetdoring near Bloemfontein for the past 2-years, so it was a no brainer that a twitch was on.

I have learnt over the years that with any rarity or vagrant, the sooner you get to the site, the more success you have of connecting with the bird. My experiences (positive and negative) from Kuwait was that vagrants were generally one-day birds.

Kraanspoort is a 2.5 hour drive from my house, so I was on the road by 4am with emotions mixed with both excitement and trepidation and had much time to ponder upon these on the journey and whether the morning bring joy or despair? I arrived at the gate to Kraanspoort around 6:20am and once through, had another 15-minute drive to the location within the Village. I was the first of many to arrive this morning and found the spot. As I got out my car, I could hear the Cuckoo calling from the top of the ridge behind the houses which was a great sign.

I then caught up with a lady and her older mother, both local residents who had also come to try and get better views of this star. We were just about to start climbing up the ridge when my fellow birder from Pretoria Roelof and his friends Leon, Patrick and Billy arrived. Together we slowly and quietly climbed up the steep ridge, getting ever close to the calling Cuckoo. Finally with hearts pumping (from the climb and excitement) we were within 10m of the bird, but still could not see it - when only one of us did, it flew off over the ridge and our collective hearts sank. It continued calling, but from a lot further away.

Whilst deciding what to do, a Bearded Woodpecker flew in

Bearded Woodpecker (Chloropicus namaquus)

and not too much later a White-bellied Sunbird

White-bellied Sunbird (Cinnyris talatala)

The Cuckoo flew off again, but this time down the valley and continued calling. We slowly walked along the ridge and suddenly through the foliage we could see it perched out in the open, but quite some way away - but we all got our eyes on it, much to our relief

25th Madagascar Cuckoo (Cuculus rochii)

We decided to stay quietly and remain where we were and try and work out what the Cuckoo would do - low and behold, it then flew a little closer and still gave slightly more tantalizing views

Madagascar Cuckoo (Cuculus rochii)

We could not believe our luck when it flew into the large tree we were all standing under - I was able to move a little and get full frame images, even though it was on the other side of the tree. An amazing moment

Madagascar Cuckoo (Cuculus rochii)

Of course it didnt stay long before it flew down the ridge again, but not as far as before and landed close to where the local lady had been waiting. Whilst it was there, it dropped down literally next to her to catch a caterpillar. 

Later she said to us, her heart was pumping and she dare not or couldn't breathe - so I explained to her, she had just experienced what we call an OO. What does that mean she asked, I said calmly an Ornithological Orgasm and we all broke down in laughter at the shared excitement of this twitch and what it means and does to each of us!

Madagascar Cuckoo (Cuculus rochii)

Just when we thought we had seen it as well as we could have, it flew up again to where our small group was standing, this time almost in the open and sang it's heart out - well that was the coup de grĂ¢ce!

Madagascar Cuckoo (Cuculus rochii)

Although I am very happy with the almost full frame images, it is the first few small in the frame images, that for me capture the essence and emotion of the twitch and the day.

By now, other birders/twitchers had started arriving, so we slowly made our way down back to our cars with high fives all round. 

I am busy reading a book called The Jewel Hunter by Chris Gooddie (one birders quest to see all the Pitta's of the world in a year) and enjoyed his definition of Twitching - it reads

"the obsessive art of chasing rare birds that one has not seen before, yea, unto death. Hence 'twitchers' are those who indulge in this ludicrous activity, and a 'twitch' is a gathering  of said maniacs at a place where a rare bird has been sighted"

As a footnote, the Cuckoo has remained in and around the same area with the last sighting reported on 11 November 2022.

I took a different route home, detouring past Rhenosterkop where I was able to catch-up with a distant male Short-toed Rock Thrush, a bird I hadnt seen for quite some time.

Short-toed Rock Thrush (Monticola brevipes)

After which it wasn't too long a drive to get back home elated and in time for lunch with the family.

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