14 December 2022

Time Out

30 November 2022 - Suikerbosrand

I had been really hectic at work in the lead up to delivering a key project and once delivered took a half-day to chill and de-stress. I decided to visit Suikerbosrand and mid-week it was an absolute pleasure - no hikers or cyclists and pretty much just me in the reserve.

I had an early start, stopping at M & B for coffee and a muffin just as the sun was rising. The reserve only opens at 7am, so that gave me time to explore the grasslands and Eendracht Road before the entry road to the reserve. I love this time of the morning, as it just makes you feel alive. I spent a bit of time with a Fan-tailed Widow that was on the roadside fence, catching the first rays 

Male Fan-tailed Widowbird (Euplectes axillaris)

Adjacent to the wetland, a Burchell's Coucal called through the light early morning mist

Burchell's Coucal (Centropus burchelli)

Spur-winged Goose were active in the wetland giving a good few fly by's in the early morning mist

Spur-winged Goose (Plectropterus gambensis)

Exploring a side road, I had a small party of Spotted Thick-knees in gorgeous golden light

Spotted Thick-knee (Burhinus capensis)

I then explored to the Eendracht Road which was a little disappointing, as the grass was now really long making it difficult to find Larks or Pipits. I headed down to the low level bridge where the Cliff Swallows and White-rumped Swifts breed. Photographing them in flight is a challenge with big heavy glass, but I was pleased with the results I got. The Cliff Swallows are more challenging, as they keep low above the grasslands, so getting them against clear skies took some time

South African Cliff Swallow (Petrochelidon spilodera)

It was a little easier with the White-rumped Swifts which were a little more predictable

White-rumped Swift (Apus caffer)

A pair of House Sparrow's were also present and almost seem out of place away from the urban areas

Male House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)

A Long-tailed Widow came past me at speed

Long-tailed Widowbird (Euplectes progne)

By now it was getting close to 7am, so I made my way to the reserve entrance, but stopped just before the gate, as I picked up a juvenile Little Bittern in the reeds next to the road - it posed in typical Bittern fashion trying to remain invisible

Juvenile Little Bittern (Ixobrychus minutus)

There were a couple of Levailant's Cisticola's in the same reedbed which were quite cooperative

Levailant's Cisticola (Cisticola tinniens)

Last week there was an irruption of Cuckoo Finch after the rain, so I was hoping to connect with this nomadic species during the morning. However, it turned out the reserve wasnt as wet as I expected and it seems the Cuckoo Finches had moved on which was disappointing.

Just after the main gate, I had a Sand Martin that flew by, but then a static juvenile Red-backed Shrike

Juvenile Red-backed Shrike (Lanius collurio)

I spent some time exploring the habitat around the Reception Parking area and was rewarded with some new species for the trip - a female and male Pin-tailed Whydah

Female Pin-tailed Whydah (Vidua macroura)

Male Pin-tailed Whydah (Vidua macroura)

A female Greater Honeyguide warming up at the top of a dead tree

Female Greater Honeyguide (Indicator indicator)

Black-collared Barbet's were heard and seen

Black-collared Barbet (Lybius torquatus)

Along with this pair of Red-throated Wryneck

Red-throated Wryneck (Jynx ruficollis)

Near the Reception, I had a Mocking Cliff Chat with an injured foot

Male Mocking Cliff Chat (Thamnolaea cinnamomeiventris)

There were also a pair of Cape Buntings foraging next to the path way

Cape Bunting (Emberiza capensis)

But the best bird in this area was a lone Brown-backed Honeybird

Brown-backed Honeybird (Prodotiscus regulus)

I still need to ID this butterfly

Butterfly sp.

It was then time to explore the reserve and not too far from Reception I came across a small and obliging flock of Cape Canary

Cape Canary (Serinus canicollis)

Not much further on, a Streaky-headed Seedeater

Streaky-headed Seedeater (Crithagra gularis)

On the plateau I heard a distant Long-billed Lark calling, so parked my car and went looking for it on foot. I was lucky enough to finally find it and kept my distance so as not to spook it. It even responded to my own imitation of its call which was rewarding

Eastern Long-billed Lark (Certhilauda semitorquata)

Along the drive I came across a few juvenile Capped Wheatear's

Juvenile Capped Wheatear (Oenanthe pileata)

And Mountain Wheatear which weren't so obliging - are they ever?

Female Mountain Wheatear (Myrmecocichla monticola)

Still on the plateau, I had a brief glimpse of an all black bird with yellow shoulders and screeched to a halt. It flew some distance down the valley. So again, park the car and off on foot - when I finally got my bins on it I could pin the ID to a male Yellow Bishop in full breeding plumage. It just never let me get close and I did walk quite some distance - a magnificent bird in breeding plumage and not often seen in and around Gauteng

Male Yellow Bishop (Euplectes capensis)

Down near the now closed picnic spot, I picked up a Steppe Buzzard

Common (Steppe) Buzzard (Buteo buteo)

And another Red-backed Shrike near the Acacia habitat of the reserve - this time a fine adult

Red-backed Shrike (Lanius collurio)

As I completed the loop, more birds were added to the morning's list but not any more photo opportunities. However, it was a really pleasant and well needed morning out and the reserve was so much more enjoyable on a weekday - highly recommended!

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