29 March 2023

A weekend in the Lowveld

03 February 2023 - Elandsfontein Road, White River, Nelspruit and De Kaap Conservancy

Lex Hes and I had planned a Big Birding Day (BBD) weekend for November last year, but his son won two tickets to the Soccer World Cup, so it was a no brainer to postpone our BBD weekend to February this year. I took a days leave, so that I could leave early and be on the Elandsfontein Road by sunrise. This is a sand road between Belfast and Dullstroom that eventually joins the Schoemanskloof Road.

I stopped for a M&B coffee at Alzu as the sky was getting lighter and was on the Elandsfontein Road by sunrise still with some coffee in hand. I love this time of the morning as the world slowly wakes up, the smell of dew in the air and some light mist over the grasslands. I was greeted by a family of Levaillant's Cisticola's drying off on the roadside fence

Levaillant's Cisticola (Cisticola tinniens)

There are farm fences on either side of the road, so you have to accept that many images will be the proverbial bird-on-a-wire image; it is just part of the landscape. An Ant-eating Chat was not much further on

Ant-eating Chat (Myrmecocichla formicivora)

As well as a Banded Martin that took a break from hawking over the grassland and fields

Banded Martin (Neophedina cincta)

The road was great to start for a third of the way, the middle third was tricky and I guess very seldom used with deep washaways on either side of the road from the recent heavy rains. Nevertheless, I took it slow and careful and added the dark form (more grey in this case) Brown-throated Martin

Dark from Brown-throated Martin (Riparia paludicola)

And a Steppe Buzzard in the mist

Common (Steppe) Buzzard (Buteo b. vulpinus)

However the highlight was finding a flowering Protea grove right next to the road that yielded Malachite Sunbird

Malachite Sunbird (Nectarinia famosa)

A few Greater Double-collared Sunbird's

Female Greater Double-collared Sunbird (Cinnyris afer)

Male Greater Double-collared Sunbird (Cinnyris afer)

And at least 4 or 5 Gurney's Sugarbird's, a bird I missed when we went for the Cape Eagle Owl last year. Unfortunately, it was still grey and misty, so light conditions were not ideal - but the views were killer and a real highlight on this road. I don't feel guilty at all about the photo-dump of this really cool and not always easy to find species

Gurney's Sugarbird (Promerops gurneyi)

I was pleasantly surprised to bump into a pair of Mountain Reedbuck, but I guess the non-existent traffic on this section means wildlife is more confiding

Mountain Reedbuck (Redunca fulvorufula)

On the last section, the road improved again, but grasslands were now replaced by sterile Sappi forests. There was a Long-crested Eagle on one of the pylons adjacent to the forest

Long-crested Eagle (Lophaetus occipitalis)

Once on the Schoemanskloof Road, I made my way to White River to see if I could find the resident Bat Hawks. I found the site, their nest, but no sign of the birds. Perhaps the recent heavy rains had a hand in that and they were roosting elsewhere

Disappointed, I made my way to Nelspruit Botanical Gardens where the clouds had given way to sun and it was suddenly hot and humid. The river through the gardens was in flood, so quite impressive. Birding was really thin, so I focused on invertebrates which were around. This was a Dragonfly I hadn't seen before

Lucia Widow (Palpopleura lucia)

In the same area, this impressive Grasshopper

Grasshopper sp.

On one of the ponds with gorgeous purple Water Lillie's

Water Lilly

I found two Damselflies from the Sprite family

Male Swarthy Sprite (Pseudagrion hamoni)

And in the garden a Shade Swallowtail amongst some of the other butterfly species present

Shade Swallowtail (Papilio c. constantinus)

Along the impressive boardwalk, I had to avoid quite a few Kite Spiders

Kite Spider (Gasteracantha versicolor)

I then headed to the stunning De Kaap Conservancy where Lex and Lynn live. It was really great to catch-up again, as we had last seen each other at Songimvelo Nature Reserve last year. The weather was closing in, so Lex took me on a tour of the Conservancy. Driving to the spot where we would walk from, we stopped for a Striped Kingfisher

Striped Kingfisher (Halcyon chelicuti)

After we parked, we walked the grassland adjacent to a drainage line, finding Croaking Cisticola

Croaking Cisticola (Cisticola natalensis)

Tawny-flanked Prinia

Tawny-flanked Prinia (Prinia subflava)

And both Golden-tailed and Olive Woodpecker that gave some great, but distant views in good light. I actually prefer the first image, which is more moody and typical of this species

Olive Woodpecker (Dendropicos griseocephalus)

It was pretty cool to walk amongst some of the antelope and a Giraffe family on the conservancy

Cape Giraffe (Giraffa c. giraffa)

There were some wild Orchards in the grassland

Orchard sp.

I also found this Skipper species, still to be identified

Skipper sp.

We stopped at small dam and picked up a pair of Yellow-throated Longclaw

Yellow-throated Longclaw (Macronyx croceus)

By this time, it was late in the afternoon and rain was threatening, so we had a slow drive back to the house for a braai and planning for tomorrow's informal BBD

Heavy cloud, big rain

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