24 January 2023

On a mission

11 December 2022 - Dullstroom

Richard Crawshaw, Selwyn Rautenbach and myself had been planning this targeted day trip for quite some time and post BBD it finally came together. To top it, Selwyn and his team (the e-Birders) were BBD winners this year with 336 species in 24-hours, beating the old record by 1 species - so we were in esteemed company.

Our destination was Dullstroom with 1 target species as the objective. We had an early morning start, so we could be in Dullstroom just on sunrise. The species we (or rather I was after) was the Cape Eagle Owl - the last Owl I needed on my SA list and probably as tough to connect with as the Pel's Fishing Owl, in my opinion. Dullstroom is probably the closest site to Johannesburg for this elusive species and we were at the location, at the right time.

Some walking and searching was required and we were not distracted. Although, we did stop for this vocal Wailing Cisticola on the side of the hill whilst catching our breathe. 

Wailing Cisticola (Cisticola lais)

Luck was finally on our side and we located the male perched high in a Blue Gum tree, actually not far from where we had parked in the public campsite. Our early start and effort was rewarded and for me, I was just elated. We kept our distance to ensure the bird stayed relaxed and in the end it was, as it stretched and preened high up in the tree above us - what a sighting, especially when the rising sun provided a bit more light to improve the images! 

Enjoy the photo dump (although there are a lot more, than I have posted)

Cape Eagle Owl (Bubo capensis)

After enjoying his company for 15-minutes, we slowly retreated and celebrated with a few high-fives and coffee back at the Cruiser. 

Now what, as it was only 8am? The answer was easy, let's continue birding. Driving back slowly through the town which was only just stirring, we braked to a halt for an Olive Thrush foraging on the pavement - a good bird..

Olive Thrush (Turdus olivaceus)

We headed out of Dullstroom making our way to Veloren Valei Nature Reserve. At a roadside stop whilst trying to locate Gurney's Sugarbird, we had a distant Cape Vulture fly over.

Cape Vulture (Gyps coprotheres)

We drove through the gates and paid our fees at Reception before continuing into the reserve. Veloren Valei is magnificent - high altitude grasslands that were in full flower and today we were the only visitors - how much better can it get?

Floral Kingdom

Surprisingly, birds were quite skittish and most didnt allow close approach, so 'birdscapes' were the order of the day. Our first stop yielded Yellow Bishops on display, but we missed the Buff-streaked Chat that was perched on a rock not too far away

Male Yellow Bishop (Euplectes capensis)

A lone tree with Weaver nests driving into the reserve

Tree scape

We heard and saw Wing-snapping Cisticola, so stopped to investigate. Whilst searching, a Cape Longclaw called nearby

Cape Longclaw (Macronyx capensis)

We finally did relocate the Cistic and with patience got some great views. I love this style of image, taken through the habitat.

Wing-snapping Cisticola (Cisticola ayresii)

Malachite Sunbird's were prevalent, although distant. 

Malachite Sunbird (Nectarinia famosa)

We were on the lookout for Wattled Crane that had been seen a few weeks previously, but all other species were welcome in this pristine biosphere. We spent quite some time at the next stop, as we picked up Yellow-breasted Pipit - another great bird for the area. Pioneer Caper Whites were also on the move and photo-bombed a few images

Yellow-breasted Pipit (Anthus chloris)

I missed a Pale-crowned Cisticola, as it didnt stay long - but had a consolation Sentinel Rock Thrush

Male Sentinel Rock Thrush (Monticola explorator)

Eastern Long-billed Lark were heard and then seen - another image framed by the foreground habitat

Eastern Long-billed Lark (Certhilauda semitorquata)

Here a female Buff-streaked Chat bringing in nesting material

Female Buff-streaked Chat (Campicoloides bifasciata)

There were good numbers of Long-tailed Widow, but also all distant

Male Long-tailed Widowbird (Euplectes progne)

Of course, we had a few more Malachite Sunbirds - this one ringed and against the light. Look at all the pollen on its feet!

Male Malachite Sunbird (Nectarinia famosa)

Cape Weaver were quite numerous

Female Cape Weaver (Ploceus capensis)

There were a few of what I presume are Agama's around - ID still pending

Agama sp.

We failed to find the Crane, so cut our losses and headed back out. Just before the main gate, a Mountain Reedbuck spooked from the side of the road

Male Mountain Reedbuck (Redunca fulvorufula)

At the gate, a brightly coloured Commodore caught our attention. This butterfly has two seasonal forms; Winter (dry season) form has blue upperside and green-black underside whilst Summer (wet season) form is orange-pink with black bands. The winter form is unique whilst the summer form could be confused with one of the Joker species.

Southern Gaudy Commodore (Precis o. sesamus)

We then headed off to another location, but Google Maps could not seem to find it and took us on a wild goose chase which unfortunately resulted in some lost time. We decided to remain in the Dullstoom area for the latter half of the afternoon exploring some of the backroads. We had this juvenile Violet-backed Starling in some great light

Juvenile Violet-backed Starling (Cinnyricinclus leucogaster)

Between Dullstroom and Belfast, we found another road which turned out to be a great choice and produced some great birds - here a Buff-streaked Chat

Male Buff-streaked Chat (Campicoloides bifasciata)

Further down the road, Black-winged Lapwing - look carefully

Black-winged Lapwing (Vanellus melanopterus)

Distant Crowned Cranes with a fly-by Bald Ibis

Southern Bald Ibis (Geronticus calvus)

and not much later Denham's Bustard and Amur Falcon (not photographed) as the sun set on a fantastic day out with a bunch of good birding friends

Denham's Bustard (Neotis denhami)

We recorded 100 species for the day, but it was certainly quality over quantity with the primary objective achieved and some memorable species seen and heard - but more importantly, all in good company with plenty of banter!

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