12 January 2023

Big Birding Day

03 December 2022 - Zaagkuilsdrift

Richard Crawshaw and I took part 'unofficially' on BBD with a different goal. We decided to see how many birds we could photograph of all that we recorded and also restricted ourselves to one location - the famed Zaagkuilsdrift Road, north of Pretoria.

We had an early start, so we could be at the start of the road at sunrise. It took some time to get light, due to clouds on the horizon. Our bird of the day, was literally the first bird we saw on the road - Dusky Lark. This is a nomadic species and is not guaranteed anywhere.

Dusky Lark (Pinarocorys nigricans)




A little further on, the first of a few Lesser Grey Shrikes

Lesser Grey Shrike (Lanius minor)


Driving slowly and stopping often, we added more species than photographs, as light was not ideal. We stopped for a pair of calling Woodland Kingfishers which were really entertaining

Woodland Kingfisher (Halcyon senegalensis)






In the same location, there was a commotion in a tree behind us and we discovered a pair of Lesser Honeyguide's.

Lesser Honeyguide (Indicator minor)






One of them was trying to distract the Acacia Pied Barbet, so we assume the other could quickly get into it's nest to lay an egg. We are not sure if they succeeded, but we enjoyed the antics of the strategy

Acacia Pied Barbet (Tricholaema leucomelas)


Next stop was for a fairly obliging Levaillant's Cuckoo which provided some great views and fly by's. I hadn't realised that its upperparts had such a green sheen in the light - quite stunning!

Levaillant's Cuckoo (Clamator levaillantii)










We took a drive down Crake Road and found our 5th Cuckoo species for the morning - Jacobin Cuckoo, unfortunately no opportunity to photograph Klaas, Diederick and Red-chested.

Jacobin Cuckoo (Clamator jacobinus)





We had a coffee stop at Zaagkuilsdrift Lodge where we had Black Cuckoo that won in the hide-and-seek game. But we did add Gabar Goshawk and a few other species

Gabar Goshawk (Micronisus gabar)


On the way out, a Wahlberg's Eagle very high up

Wahlberg's Eagle (Hieraaetus wahlbergi)


There were many Brown-veined (Pioneer Caper) White's and a few other butterfly species enjoying the puddles in the road, from the recent rain

Pioneer Caper White (Belenois aurota)





We continued to the Kgomo Kgomo village finding a large number of hawking Hirundines, amongst them some Pearl-breasted Swallow

Pearl-breasted Swallow (Hirundo dimidiata)



We then spent some time on the bridge and we able to photograph a number of species; Little Swift

Little Swift (Apus affinis)



Giant Kingfisher

Male Giant Kingfisher (Megaceryle maxima)


Purple Heron

Purple Heron (Ardea purpurea)


Cape Weaver (dark-eyed female)

Female Cape Weaver (Ploceus capensis)


an assortment of Red-billed Quelea

Male Red-billed Quelea (Quelea quelea)



and a distant Steppe (Common) Buzzard

Common (Steppe) Buzzard (Buteo buteo)


This was a sad end to a Reed Cormorant - hook, line and death

Death on the overhead wird


By now the temperature had really hit the high for the day - we continued driving along the road out of the village looking for more species - but they had all disappeared into the bush looking for shade and cover. We eventually stopped on the floodplain where we enjoyed a late lunch and refreshments.

Once sated, we explored the Acacia trees opposite the village and found our 7th Cuckoo species for the day - Great Spotted that was also struggling in the heat of the day

Great Spotted Cuckoo (Clamator glandarius) in cover








Among other species recorded, I did manage to photograph Barred Wren-Warbler, unfortunately against the light

Barred Wren-Warbler (Calamonastes fasciolatus)



Black-chested Prinia

Black-chested Prinia (Prinia flavicans)


and Scaly-feathered Finch

Scaly-feathered Finch (Sporopipes squamifrons)


Heading back to Pienaars River, a European Roller on the overhead lines got us stopped quickly. More common is the Lilac-breasted, so it was a worthy stop and it also treated us to catching an unsuspecting Praying Mantis

European Roller (Coracias garrulus)







Our last bird for the day was a Brown Snake Eagle against darkening skies as an impending storm barreled toward us. A fearless Fork-tailed Drongo bombed it a few times and then chased it in flight.

Brown Snake Eagle (Circaetus cinereus)








Our species count wasnt as high as I expected for this awesome birding road - but we did record 123 species of which I managed to photograph 21 species (17%). As I haven't done this kind of challenge before, will take this as a baseline for any similar challenges in the future. But, most importantly a really fun day out combining birding and photography with my mate Richard!






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